It's a fair question that deserves a fair answer.
Let's offer an example.
ActiveHealth, which offers PHR services to health plans, learned on April 8 that Genentech was voluntarily pulling its psoriasis drug, Raptiva, from the market, after it was tied to a rare brain infection.
Within 48 hours, ActiveHealth says, it had analyzed its 19 million patient records, found the 288 members taking the drug, and sent notifications via e-mail to both them and their doctors.
In its press release on the case ActiveHealth quoted its chief medical officer, Greg Steinberg, who said the notes sent doctors were Care Considerations, different from the notes sent to patients. This let doctors quickly idenfity their patients on the drug and offered advice.
The advisory was also copied to patients' ActivePHRs.
This is the way the system is supposed to work. Technically Raptiva remains on the market through June 8. But getting this information directly to patients, and doctors, quickly can be a life-saver.
Such recalls are not that unusual and may not always hit the news. Just in the last few years the cholesterol drug Baycol, the anti-inflammatory Vioxx, the Parkinson's drug Permax, and the constipation drug Zelnorm were taken off the market.
Once people are tied into a functional PHR system, applications like the ActiveHealth alert system can be deployed to keep them safe. It's especially valuable when both doctors and patients are notified in an emergency.
That's how it's supposed to work. You can measure the effectiveness of an early PHR system against this baseline.