When it comes to PHRs, beware the hyperbole

One of the many jobs of a reporter is to distill the facts from the rhetoric, to be the filter between breathless hype--be it commercial or political--and the truth for you, the busy reader. For a health IT reporter, that job becomes extra challenging whenever a big industry conference happens. (Go ahead, search "HIMSS09" and see how many product announcements you turn up.) This is one of those times.

In terms of attendance, the Health 2.0 Conference that's starting today in San Francisco isn't huge, but it's not small, either. It has grown to more than 1,000 people in just a couple of years. Compare that with the 25,000 or so who trekked to this year's HIMSS conference on a snowy Chicago April weekend in the midst of a recession, or the 60,000 expected for the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting right after Thanksgiving, also at Chicago's McCormick Place. In terms of showiness, though, health 2.0 takes the cake.

Though I wasn't able to be there this year, I attended the first two health 2.0 fall shindigs and came away partially impressed with some of the whiz-bang technologies that some of our most brilliant entrepreneurial minds have dreamed up. I also was partially shaking my head with cynicism, particularly because so many companies that presented at the inaugural 2007 conference were out of business a year later. You have to have a revenue model, folks.

If the early announcements are any indication, the poor economy hasn't put a damper on the hype machine. Take this press release from a company called Allviant. "Selected as one of only 10 companies to be on stage during the historically standing-room-only 'Launch' session on October 7th, Allviant will introduce its CarePass technology, the first un-tethered, smart technology that provides an integrated healthcare consumer experience by putting the consumer in the center, and in charge, of their own service relationship universe."

Historically standing-room-only Launch session? There have been two in the past. That's like saying you're the greatest player in the history of the Houston Texans franchise (going all the way back to 2002). Also, claiming that you're the first of anything is sure to make editors shake their heads.

When it comes down to it, CarePass sounds like a personal health record, one of dozens--if not hundreds--of a class that was supposed to revolutionize healthcare by empowering patients with information. That may still happen, but not until the public and, yes, clinicians, embrace PHRs. Consumers aren't going to sit down and enter all their data. Personal finance software didn't take off until online banking did, allowing bank customers to download their statements and pay bills over the Internet. Likewise, PHRs need to be populated to have any value. Payers have tried, but with so much mistrust directed toward health insurance companies, consumers and clinicians alike haven't embraced the technology yet.

Someone needs to find a way to articulate the value of PHRs to both constituencies. As a couple of this week's top stories illustrate, physicians have started to see enough value in mobile telemedicine to include bits of technology in their daily workflow.

I don't want to pick on this one company, though. One of the goals of the Health 2.0 Conference is to give the start-ups a platform to pitch their ideas in front of the venture capitalists in attendance, after all. I'm just here to provide a reality check. - Neil