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The biggest health IT story of 2008

Even health professionals don't know how to coordinate all their EHR data into a coherent PHR from which they can make wellness decisions.

Google logo as DNA strandI came in for deserved criticism from both readers and editors this year for doing too many stories that strayed from the IT core of ZDNet.

(A Google logo as a strand of DNA, a picture taken for Scienceroll.)

Given that charge the best-read story on this blog for 2008 should have been my February coverage of Google Health, on which I secured an exclusive interview during the HIMSS show in Orlando.

It was, in fact, only the 5th most read item on this blog during the year. It did, however, draw 22 talkbacks, many of them thoughtful and useful in later reporting.

Of all the trends I covered this year Personal Health Records like Google Health has the best "legs," the best chance of remaining an important story in 2009 and beyond.

As project manager Missy Krasner explained in February a PHR, unlike an Electronic Health Record (EHR) maintained by your doctor, is under your control, and not subject to the restrictions of the HIPAA law.

This is often misunderstood by privacy advocates, who see PHRs as giant loopholes through which unscrupulous employers may find ways to deny you coverage and cherry-pick risks.

But as Ms. Krasner noted in our interview a PHR like Google Health is much more. You can not only download doctor and hospital data on your illnesses into it. You can upload wellness data as well.

We can generate a lot of such data every day. Diabetics maintain their own sugar readings, hypertensives their own blood pressure statistics. Dieters often have food diaries. Everyone with an exercise regimen has a workout schedule.

Collecting and using this wellness data can keep you from becoming ill. Bringing a wellness coach your PHR can help them tweak your program to make it more effective.

All this data is designed to help drive your actions, to give you more control over your health.

But it's clear this trend is very much in its infancy. Even health professionals don't know how to coordinate all their EHR data into a coherent PHR from which they can make wellness decisions.

It is that effort that will consume patients, the health industrial complex, and the government in 2009 and beyond.