Much ado about PHRs

First, let's ask the question on everyone's mind: What is a PHR? I'm not sure, and I bet you aren't either. But I can tell you that if the idea of adding self-reported patient health information to the mix sounds appetizing, you'll get your fill at HIMSS this year. I'm not talking about the tentative, completely voluntary efforts that are currently offered by the consumer-facing sides of companies like WebMD and Medem. In fact, not all of the PHR buzz you'll get comes from vendors with a product to plug; in fact, interestingly enough, some of the most interesting PHR efforts, like the Cleveland Clinic's MyChart, are rising up from the provider level rather than vendor engineering teams. (I particularly like MyChart's "caregiver" data collection categories, as they go beyond mere patient self-reporting to collecting data from other vitally involved parties.) Still, there are definitely some sophisticated commercial efforts underway, such as ActiveHealth's CareEngine, which is integrating a particularly long list of relevant sources--such as pharmacy benefit management systems, labs, claims data from health plans, member-contributed data and more--into a next-gen PHR model.

Basically, anyone you speak to at HIMSS who considers themselves to be in the clinical information management business is probably going pitch you on having a PHR, as it's become de rigeur almost overnight. There seems to be a consensus that patients have critical information to contribute to the health management process;  the question will be what HIMSS participants think IT can do to help the process along.