Magazines and newspapers are spilling much ink over Personal Health Records (PHRs), the latest piece of IT that will fix healthcare. I asked my small-practice doctor a few weeks ago what he would do if a patient presented him with a PHR. Not much, he answered (first I had to explain what it is.) No insurer would pay him to populate the data and it isn’t integrated with his (limited) PPM system. The patient would be welcome to a copy of his medical records (for an exorbitant “handling & copying” fee) to populate the PHR himself, but good luck making out the doctor’s handwriting, medical abbreviations and terminology. If one had seen specialists, those separate records would need to be secured and entered as well.

The PHR hype is in full swing, and it will likely take a decade minimum for a majority of patients to have PHRs. I doubt most people will even look at their PHR even if they have one. Progressive insurers like Aetna offer members a pre-populated PHR based on claims data. In the long term, this will help Aetna improve care, reduce errors and lower costs. Follow the money and one will see the adoption path PHRs follow.

As with all technologies, the question of standards is arising with PHRs. AHIP has taken a good first step in creating a standard that is expected to be ready by December of ’08. The standard includes data set and portability requirements to take into consideration a person’s change in employers and health plans.

Some payors like Medical Mutual of Ohio and Anthem BCBS have PHRs that align with the AHIP standard. Time will tell how PHRs are accepted by consumers. Nationally, CCHIT, the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology, will be certifying personal health records (PHRs) next year. Criteria will be proposed in April, 2009, along with a comment period. Certification will officially start in July 2009.

CCHIT’s certification of EMRs met with mixed reactions early on, with smaller vendors crying foul over the $20,000 fee. Since then, it’s become a somewhat important stamp of approval in large enterprise purchasing decisions. This will likely happen with PHR certification as well.

Locally here in Massachusetts Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts partnered with Google Health to enable members to import their claims data into their Google Health profile. BCBSMA says that members with Google Health PHRs will be able to share data with healthcare providers who currently don’t have access to their data. Also, they can download medical records and prescription history from other connected providers.

By Shawn Whalen, SVP & Director, Healthcare IT Practice, Schwartz Communications