Researchers: It's time to advance personal health record mobility

By Judy Mottl

New research on improving healthcare in emergency and disaster situations recommends the federal government take the lead in mobilizing personal health record systems to improve information sharing, treatment determination and patient care.

Mobile personal health records (mPHRs), which are in play to a limited extent today, provide online access to critical data that is often out of reach in emergencies and could also potentially reduce medical errors, according to co-authors Nidhi Bouri (pictured right), and Sanjana Ravi of the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

The comprehensive study arrives at a time when healthcare payers, providers, government agencies and consumers are tapping new mobile-related technologies to enhance healthcare and treatment while striving to reduce healthcare costs.

The report identifies the benefits of mPHRs during emergencies, the technology's current use and history of mPHR and PHR systems. It also outlines the challenges impeding full adoption and use and provides recommendations to federal agencies on how to drive support and use of mPHRs.

"We felt PHRs were worth exploring, as they are emerging forms of health technology with the potential to change the dynamics of both healthcare delivery and the patient-provider relationship," Bouri told FierceMobileHealthcare. "We also found that there were few publications that took a holistic approach to PHR integration into healthcare delivery and emergency preparedness efforts," she explained.

While there are many types of mPHRs available, with uses ranging from letting patients access lab results to communicate with doctors and keep records on such health issues as allergy issues, actual mPHR use is limited, states the report. The authors believe the big potential of mPHRs is far from being tapped.

"Accessing and sharing medical information is a notable challenge during most public health emergencies," Bouri said. "Many of these apps are being downloaded more frequently, but sustained use by patients is very low, as is integration into healthcare delivery. Services like Google Health shut down for this reason."

An mPHR provides an opportunity to help patients and providers identify medical conditions and prescriptions from numerous locations. This, states the report, could minimize medical errors and identify improvements to health behaviors during emergencies, when patients meet a new provider, or electronic health records are not accessible, states the report.

Yet despite the many benefits, numerous challenges inhibit adoption and further development of mPHRs, Bouri said. User privacy is the top hurdle, with data security concerns falling close behind.

"While there are many logistical and legal challenges associated with integrating mPHRs into standard healthcare practice, privacy is probably the greatest barrier to greater patient adoption. Our research revealed that many consumers harbor concerns about security breaches, which in turn result in access to confidential health information," Bouri said.

The prime pathway for expanding use of mPHRs is through federal standards and the government providing incentives.

"Certain incentives would certainly facilitate increased integration," said Bouri, noting the possibility of paying healthcare providers for time spent consulting on PHR development, sharing information and updating apps.

"Additionally, a stronger legal and regulatory framework governing mPHR usage in healthcare might allay security concerns, thereby encouraging more patients and providers to jump on board," Bouri said.

Though technology can go a long way to help engage patients in their own healthcare, a little empathy can be an essential ingredient, according to an article published this fall at CIO.com.

For more info:
- read the full report

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Patient portal use to skyrocket 221%
Array of factors involved in patient access to records
Empathy essential for patient engagement success

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