A few years ago, anticipating changes that would inevitably follow federal requirements, several major players entered the Personal Health Record (PHR) market, notably Google and Revolution Health. Well, today we learn the Revolution Health application is folding…and Google is engaged in a public relations struggle after media reports linking use of their application to several medical errors.

These applications were targeted directly to patients, not health care providers. Patients today are a. entrenched in the current system, never before having been asked to maintain their own records, b. not knowledgeable about medical data and how to interpret it, and c. largely wary of technology. Those who aren’t wary may be cynical about the compatibility of PHR data between providers. It’s hardly surprising they’ve been slow to adopt.

So the initial ventures appear to be faltering…but don’t be deceived. We are hurtling towards a PHR-based records model. As more providers meet the national Electronic Health Record (EHR) conversion deadline, the PHR model will make logistical sense. It makes common sense as well. Think about it: Americans move on average every six years. They traverse a field littered with specialists and urgent care facilities. The only common denominator in the health history of a modern patient is the patient themselves.

To wit, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is aggressively promoting PHRs among Medicare/Medicaid clients, and patient advocates have never stopped beating the drum. The question is not whether, but when and how PHRs will catch fire.

It might pay you to be ahead of the curve. Established so many times, so many ways: electronic records save money. A patient with a PHR costs $0 in administrative overhead. You won’t have to pay your staff to chase down hospital lab results or spend time on the phone verifying insurance information. Plug it in, press a button and everything will be right in front of you. Press another button and send it to any other provider or pharmacy anywhere, instantly.

If that doesn’t sway you, the government is sweetening the deal. HHS will distribute billions of dollars this year in stimulus funding to health care providers who put EHR systems to what they call “meaningful use”. Last week the officer in charge of the program, Joshua Seidman, expressly stated integrating PHRs into your record system can help you qualify.

Steven Schiff, a California cardiologist, posted in favor of PHRs at the Huffington Post yesterday. A longtime user of EHR technology, he addressed a common concern about the future of progress notes… well worth a look.

For a more wonkish and thorough evaluation of the value of PHRs, you can download the Center for Information Technology Leadership (CiTL) PHR research report.

-Maria Nicholas