Much of the discussion on EHRs and health care IT has focused predominantly on the IT vendor-healthcare provider relationship.  Another, often forgotten, part of the health care equation is the role played by the doctor-patient relationship.

Emerging technology could greatly impact decisions consumers, along with their physicians, make. In addition, patients’ access to their medical records could be a game-changer in how they approach healthcare.

An announcement this week reemphasized the role consumers are playing in the burgeoning field of healthcare IT. A new joint venture between General Electric and Microsoft called Caradigm will bring together GE medical device technology and Microsoft’s software clout. According to a Microsoft press release, Caradigm will be “aimed at driving a paradigm shift in the delivery of care by enabling health systems and professionals to use real-time, system-wide intelligence to improve healthcare quality and the patient experience.”

Microsoft has already forayed into healthcare IT in the form of Healthvault the company’s personal health records (PHR) system.  PHRs systems like Healthvault, along with others such as the federal government’s Blue Button program, give patients digital access to their own health records, either through home computers or mobile devices.

The idea of empowering healthcare consumers through technology is gaining traction, according to a recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association. A report from the group said 36% of those surveyed would like to utilize wireless technology to foster better communications with their healthcare providers.

Software developers have already begun to serve this growing demand by patients who want a more hands-on approach to their healthcare. In May, MIM Software made their VueMe medical image viewing application available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch devices. According a company press release, the application is “designed specifically for patient use, allows patients to view diagnostic images sent to them from their doctors, and to share these images, if needed, with specialists.”

This transition to EHRs allowing for the utilization of PHRs, and patients adopting mobile health technology is empowering for consumers, but some doctors say these developments could have their drawbacks.

Dr. Adam Sharp of the healthcare startup par80 recently expressed concern that EHRs could reduce the number of options available to patients and providers. On the par80 blog Dr. Sharp wrote, that EHRs could limit choices by particular vendors “removing a button or option” therefore rendering that particular treatment or diagnostic option virtually non-existent.

A quick scan of the par80 blog might suggest the group’s bias against any healthcare initiatives by the Obama administration, but many other physicians have raised concerns about emerging technologies and their impact on the doctor-patient relationship.

In a recent study involving series of interviews, Canadian physicians questioned the value of PHRs with respect to the physician-patient relationship. The authors of this study, published in the May 2011 issue of Canadian Family Physician, wrote that some study participants were worried patients might suffer from increased anxiety as a result of misinterpreting the medical documents available to them.

In the article, one respondent cautioned, “If you’re going to make [PHRs] worthwhile, you need to ensure they are able to interpret the information they are receiving, able to interpret it properly, and able to do something useful with it, otherwise you are going to create chaos.”

Most physicians agreed that PHRs would be more beneficial if they raised the level of communication between patients and physicians. “Providing [PHRs] opens another opportunity to communicate with people. I don’t think you can ever communicate too much,” said one study respondent.

Another physician noted that face-to-face communication is always ideal when compared to electronic correspondence saying, “We have to remember that the art of medicine is not in the technology, the art is in the face-to-face contact and the patient-centered care that we deliver to patients.”