Looking for value in PHRs

Let's get one thing straight: It's not that I don't like the idea of personal health records. I simply don't like the breathless hype around products with virtually zero market traction, and thus don't think there's much news in stories like the Mayo Clinic making a deal with Dossia.

Where I do see news is in stories that attempt to show the value of PHRs as a component in a much more connected health system, where data flows from multiple sources into a patient-accessible record, without requiring data entry by patients themselves.

In that spirit, I offer kudos to Canadian Healthcare Technology for providing a realistic argument in favor of PHRs. "Ideally, the test results for patients should be forwarded to a secure Patient Health Record (PHR), where they can be collated for future reference. It's a way of creating a unified record for care-givers, too, who want to see the records of patients who have been treated at other clinics and hospitals," writes CHT editor Jerry Zeidenberg. The key word here is "ideally." We certainly don't live in an ideal world when it comes to heath information.

Zeidenberg writes of Sylvie Deslongchamps, a Montreal woman suing her gynecologist and a local hospital that failed to communicate the results of a Pap test for more than a year and a half while the cancer she didn't know she had grew more aggressive. She now has six months to live. A PHR that automatically receives results might have compensated for the human neglect that is literally killing her.

"It's quite possible that such services may start off slowly but grow quickly if they hit a tipping point--much like banking ATMs and fax machines did," Zeidenberg writes. "Judging from the case of Ms. Deslongchamps and her gynecologist, the automatic transmission of test results to PHRs would not only help patients, they would help protect doctors, too."

Someone else who apparently sees the value in providing vital health information to patients is Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), who has introduced legislation that would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to provide a web portal for all veterans to access their medical records and benefits information as they leave active military duty.

"The current lack of access to official military personnel files places an unnecessary and frustrating burden on veterans and limits the continuum of care and support they need for transition from active servicemember to veteran," Gen. Gordon Sullivan, president of the Association of the United States Army, says, according to Healthcare IT News. "Establishment of a veteran-specific web portal would make it much easier for servicemembers, as they transition to veteran status, to have seamless access to their service, benefit, and healthcare information online."

A lot of PHRs would make life easier for patients of all kinds. But there need to be data sources to feed the PHRs. - Neil