Sure, we can empower patients with PHRs, but who can show the value?

We keep hearing how patient empowerment represents the revolution that healthcare badly needs, and that EMRs, PHRs, HIE et al are the tools that will help empower patients.

NextGov reports that Dr. Paul Tibbits, deputy CIO for strategy, architecture and design at the Department of Veterans Affairs, last week said that patient-controlled PHRs would do a better job of protecting privacy than provider-side EMRs. I heard Tibbits say the same thing this week at the first-ever Healthcare IT Institute in Braselton, Ga., a small meeting of mostly CIOs and interoperability vendors.

"If the patient becomes the hub of interoperability, no data-use agreement is necessary," Tibbits said Monday, in reference to the permissions providers will need to share patient records under new, more stringent HIPAA regulations.

Meanwhile, Health Imaging & IT reports from a health IT conference in Boston last week that John Moore, managing partner of Chilmark Research, stated a similar belief. "Without citizen engagement, clinicians' adoption of health IT may be dead on arrival," he said. "Stimulus funding is not enough to move the needle," Moore added. But PHRs need to be "personable" and "engaging to the citizen," he said according to Health Imaging & IT.

At the same Boston meeting, Barbra G. Rabson, executive director of the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners coalition, said that physicians need to do a better job of communicating the value of EMRs and HIE to patients.

What exactly does all this mean? How can doctors communicate the value of EMRs to patients if they're not sold on EMRs themselves? How does a PHR become "personable" and "engaging"?

Certainly, Tibbits is on to something by taking the angle of patient empowerment and freeing up providers from having to obtain all sorts of authorizations--but this strategy only works if patients see the value of PHRs in the first place. Is it me, or are we chasing our own tails again? - Neil