August 24, 2011, 5:13 PM — A lack of electronic medical data from doctors, complicated setup processes and the static nature of personal health records (PHRs) have caused U.S. consumers to shun the products. But PHR use should increase as more doctors use electronic health records (EHRs) and tech vendors develop offerings that are easier to use.
PHR use "is not incredibly high, but it is growing," said Lygeia Ricciardi, senior policy advisor for consumer e-health at the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services. She cited a 2011 study from consulting firm Deloitte that found usage stands at 11 percent, a 3 percent increase from the 2008 survey.
Consumers interested in PHRs face compartmentalized offerings with enterprise IT vendors looking to unite the silos, said Liz Boehm, principal analyst, customer experience for health care and life sciences, at Forrester Research.
Entities that pay a person's health care claims, such as a health insurance provider, offer PHRs containing claim information, but lack clinical data like lab results, said Boehm. Doctors, using health care software from companies including GE and Epic Systems, can offer PHRs that include clinical data. These records prove "less useful," though, since they cannot link to a patient's pharmacy or another health care provider's system.
Microsoft's HealthVault PHR service, launched in 2007, attempts to bridge the gap between health care payer and provider systems, she said. HealthVault's objective is for doctors, pharmacies and other care providers to "feed their data into this record that is centered around the consumer."
Google also offered a PHR product, Google Health, but in June the company announced that it would end the service on Jan. 1, 2012. In a blog post, the company attributed its decision to Google Health's "limited usage."
Federal government mandates that require doctors to migrate to EHRs from paper-based systems will help solve the data issue, Ricciardi said. With "more providers coming online and with more access to digital information for consumers," she expects to see a "spillover effect" that will boost PHR adoption.
Linking EHRs to PHRs will "absolutely" increase PHR use, said Boehm. A doctor's involvement "fundamentally changes what the PHR is and what's being offered."
And this data influx should spur tech companies to offer PHR products.
"Until you have all that data flowing, sometimes it's hard to encourage industry to go ahead and develop all these applications because it's potentially too early," Ricciardi said.