PHRs: What's a realistic expectation?

By Jeff Rowe
11:39 AM

The problem with health IT policymakers and stakeholders is that they are dedicated to the idea that effective, widespread use of IT can lead to a healthier population.

Now that we have your attention, allow us to explain. Or, more specifically, allow us to use that radical contention to highlight the questions we have about Personal Health Records(PHRs).

Here’s a piece that provides a good look at the headache PHRs give policymakers and providers alike.

The writer asks, “If PHRs are providing an easy means for patients to access their records, pay bills, schedule appointments and/or refill medications in some organizations, what's the problem?”

Noting that surveys show “patients can be as reluctant as physicians when it comes to using a PHR to engage in their own care,” he goes on to discuss the problems with PHRs from the perspective of both patients and providers.

For patients, the problem is primarily one of awareness, as half of those surveyed for a 2011 IDC Health Insights poll said they had never been “exposed to the idea” of PHRs. Still, even “among the 7 percent who reported using a PHR in 2011, fewer than half (47.6 percent) are still using one to manage their family's health.”

For providers, the problem is a bit different. One doctor and researcher says providers feel “the jury is out on the reliability of PHRs.” His recent survey of physicians found that “79 percent of the physicians were concerned that a PHR might contain incorrect information. This was a prevalent concern among physicians, both willing and unwilling to use PHRs."

As with many things technological, we suspect the reliability issues will be ironed out over time. As for the patient interest, however, those dedicated health IT advocates we mentioned at the top may want to take a step back and take into consideration the reality of daily life. The advocates are dedicated to the idea that effective, widespread use of IT can lead to a healthier population. And PHRs are part of that scenario. Other people, well, have lives to live.

That is, while health concerns at some level or another are an ongoing part of most people’s lives, for anyone of reasonable good health they are far from the only thing to think about. Jobs, families, debts, chores, fun, etc, are all part of the daily mix of items that consume a person’s thoughts for the vast majority of any given day. Barring unforeseen health “events”, tracking and managing one’s health data is, at best, just one more thing among many. Consequently, the move toward the adoption of PHRs is apt to be slow, and it seems reasonable to suspect that many people, perhaps, will never move at all.

Does this mean PHRs will fail? Not at all. It does mean, however, that dedicated health IT advocates may need to temper their expectations for how much of the population will ultimately move to PHRs. And even those who do make the move are probably going to take their time getting there.



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