The problem with PHRs

Personal Health Records (PHRs) are seen as the "silver bullet" in the Obama health plan, but if a health IT leader can't make it work what chance do the rest of us have?

A.D.A.M. screenshot"I have PHRs in five different places and don't know which to update so I don't."

That's no ordinary befuddled patient speaking. It's Rick Leach, senior vice president of marketing at A.D.A.M., whom I had called to discuss his "coolest health app for the iPhone."

It's called Symptom Navigator, and the idea is to give you mobile access to data based on your symptoms.

Personal Health Records (PHRs) are seen as the "silver bullet" in the Obama health plan, but if a health IT leader like Rick Leach can't make it work what chance do the rest of us have?

"What we're trying to do is provide the information that the 80% of people who only consume 20% of the health care the information they need for their simple decisions," he said of his company's strategy.

"We're going after those people who are dealing with straightforward symptoms and situations, accidents etc., and giving them actionable information at that point in time."

In other words they're targeting the same market as PHR vendors.

The PHR market, and PHR interfaces, should be right up their street. But can any of us really be expected to make choices on health coverage or (worse) health purchase decisions using such a consumer interface, I asked?

At about this point in the conversation I started getting into the rage-a-hol. What we need is not a computer interface, I blustered, but a human interface, someone who has our data and our trust and can act as our advocate to the system.

Our call had been arranged by a Boston PR agency, but at this point Leach admitted his office is actually in Midtown Atlanta, a few blocks from the Predictive Health Institute whose meeting I had just spent two days at.

Call Dr. Brigham, I asked. His office is just a mile south on Peachtreet Street. If it's raining, that's one MARTA stop.

He promised he would. If you can combine user-friendly software with trusted relationships, even if the advocates aren't doctors, insurers can pick up the tab and actually save money.

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