Online PHRs

Bridging the information divide

Akhil Tandulwadikar

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Online PHRs can overcome the geographical limitations of existing EMR systems, while encouraging patients towards selfcare.

A patient's health record is perhaps the most important, yet most scarcely shared, aspect of the healthcare process. Whether in primary care or emergency, a doctor having access to the patient's medical history is better equipped to provide the right care at the right time. As it happens, patient information is bound by the geographical reach of a hospital's Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system.

The internet has enabled an innovation that has the potential to change the scenario-placing patient records online and giving patient the control over their health information. Sensing the potential of this consumer-centred innovation, companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM and Intel-to name a few-have already taken to online Personal Health Records (PHRs) in a big way. While Microsoft launched HealthVault in early 2008, Google introduced Google Health in June 2008. These services are in their initial stages and issues such as data security are still being sorted out. Since these services are provided free of cost, providers will have explore the right business model for the long run. However, there are no apprehensions whatsoever regarding their potential benefits.

The data in an online PHR is built and managed by the patient. Given the ubiquity of the Internet, this data can be accessed from anywhere at any time. This is a blessing for both the patients-who have become increasingly Internet savvy and mobile-and for healthcare providers. With the entire patient history being available at the click of a button, a doctor, even if treating the patient for the first time, can be helped to a quicker and accurate diagnosis. As a consequence it is the patients who will gain most from PHRs.

Patient-doctor relationship stands to gain from online PHRs. Patients can exchange data with their doctor on a daily basis, which could result in reduction in visits to the clinic. More importantly, it allows the doctor to monitor the patient's health and take corrective steps if necessary.

In this issue's cover story, we present to you insights into this promising trend in healthcare. It also features interviews with experts who have pioneered research in the field. This includes views from Bill Crounse, Senior Director of World Health at Microsoft, Claudia Pagliari, Senior Lecturer in Primary Care at the University of Edinburgh and John Halamka, Chief Information Officer and the Dean for Technology at the Harvard Medical School.

By allowing the patient to control the health data, online PHRs could play a catalytic role in improving patient participation in healthcare. Designed with the patient in mind, online PHRs encourage selfcare.

A typical PHR website provides health-related information to patients maintaining records on that website. It can also incorporate the principles of social networking on the Internet, thus enabling patient-to-patient interaction. Online PHRs have the potential to fill the information void that has existed on the patient's side for so long.