BHCG Monitor: Focus on Health Care Benefits - April 2012

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BHCG Monitor: Focus on Health Care Benefits - April 2012


An Electronic Personal Health Record Primer

A Personal Health Record (PHR) is one important step consumers can take to be responsible for their own health and health care. Without consumers taking this responsibility, efforts by employers alone to mitigate health care cost increases will be difficult at best. In this article we answer the following questions: What is a PHR? What are the benefits of creating one? What information is contained in a PHR? What are some considerations in choosing a PHR vendor/platform?

What is a Personal Health Record (PHR)?

Unlike an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) which is maintained by a health care provider containing medical information entered by clinicians, a PHR is a tool that a consumer owns and maintains. It is used to collect, track and share past and current information about a person’s health or the health of someone in their care. The consumer controls the health information in their PHR and can update it anywhere, at any time, with Internet access. PHRs use secure technology to protect information from being seen without permission. The consumer controls who can see their information and who they share it with.

What are the benefits of a PHR?

Consumers typically have information regarding their health and health care in multiple locations, usually in a paper format and not easily accessible. A PHR is a confidential, easy-to-use and access electronic tool that allows a consumer to manage and store all their pertinent health information in a single location. There are numerous benefits of having a PHR:

  • It can be easily shared with family members, caregivers and health care providers
  • It can assist providers in making accurate diagnoses and viable treatment option recommendations
  • It allows consumers to gain knowledge about their health by understanding and actively tracking health conditions
  • In case of emergency, it allows health care providers immediate access to critical information for proper diagnosis and treatment
  • Unneeded or duplicative tests and procedures can be avoided, saving both money and time, and improving the quality of care received
  • Paper files are difficult to secure and not always readily available to providers and family members when needed
  • By allowing a provider to review a PHR, the consumer can make the most of their physician visits
  • It allows the consumer to track appointments, vaccinations and preventive/screening services

What’s contained in a PHR?

The actual contents of a PHR are determined to some extent by the vendor/platform chosen. However, most PHRs can contain most, if not all, of the following information:

  • Demographic information including blood type and emergency contact
  • Name of primary care provider and contact information
  • List of other health care providers
  • Allergies and adverse drug reactions
  • Chronic diseases
  • Family health history
  • Dates of physicals and preventive exams/screenings
  • Illnesses and hospitalizations
  • Imaging reports
  • Lab test results
  • Medications, including dosing and length of time on each medication
  • Information about where prescriptions are filled (Retail and/or mail order pharmacy) Dates and outcomes of surgeries and other procedures
  • Dates of vaccinations
  • Advance Directives

What key factors should be considered when selecting a PHR vendor/platform?

Today, PHRs are available from a number of sources: health plans, providers, and independent vendors. Some are software-based while others are web-based. Some PHRs are free and others charge fees. Here are factors to consider when selecting a PHR vendor:

  • Portability – If a consumer’s insurance carrier or provider changes, will they be able to take their PHR with them? While a PHR is controlled and maintained by the consumer, they need to inquire whether they have the ability to take it with them to a new health insurer or to a new provider.
  • Costs & Reliability – Generally PHRs offered by health care providers or health insurers are free. There also free services offered through such entities as WebMD and Microsoft Health Vault, among many others. In addition, there are private companies that offer PHR services for a fee. When selecting a web-based PHR system, it is important to select a trusted provider, ensuring that data is backed up often, not compromised and will be available at all times. Downloading and installing electronic health record software on your personal computer requires regular backup of data by the user.
  • Control & Security – Most PHR providers have given necessary importance to security features (e.g., unique user ID and password) to make sure that medical information stays protected all the time, while the information is still easily accessible. However, it is important to carefully review the Notice of Privacy Practices to fully understand how and if any of the information (even de-identified), will be shared with third parties.
  • Ease of Use & Sharing Information – In any good PHR system, users should be able to easily add, delete and correct information. Navigation should be intuitive and most used features should be quickly accessible. Additionally, PHRs must have the ability to control and share information with health care providers and family members, with the owner’s consent. The ability to put the PHR on a portable USB drive allows a consumer to have it with them at all times.
  • Ability to Pull Medical Record Information from Health Care Providers – No PHR is complete without historical information about health problems, prescription drugs, allergies, procedures performed, lab results, etc. It is a laborious task and also prone to error when entering details into the system manually. Instead, some PHR systems, with the owner’s consent, can automatically pull information from a variety of health care provider sources, saving considerable time and effort.
  • A PHR as a Communications Tool – The ability to share information with health care providers is also important. If a PHR can directly interact with the health records system deployed at a consumer’s primary care provider’s office, they will be able to make appointments online, share medical information both ways, consult with doctors, and obtain prescriptions without an office visit. A call to a primary care provider’s office can determine which PHR systems they might support.
  • Availability of Proactive Health Monitoring Features – Some PHR systems are now starting to provide several advanced features to help consumers take more control of their health. Consumer can set health goals, measure successes or set up monitoring programs and get alerts on health conditions.

What can employers do to promote PHRs?

According to a 2011 study from IDC Health Insights, consumers have been slow to adopt personal health records. Only seven percent of respondents in 2011 reported ever having used a PHR and less than half of these respondents (47.6 percent) are still using one to manage their family's health. Further, the majority of respondents (50.6 percent) said that the reason why they had not used the online technology was that they were not familiar with the concept of a PHR.

Clearly much work needs to be done to increase the utilization of PHRs. Education about what PHRs are and how they are used is a necessary first step. Employers should consider developing communications for employees that explain the value of having a PHR, emphasize the benefit of taking control of their health and their family’s health, and the cost savings and quality of care benefits that will accrue with their use. Additionally, employers could consider providing employees a list of free or low cost PHR vendors.

Offering employees access to PHR programs as a benefit administered by a health plan is an option. However, if it is not portable, the employee loses the benefit when they leave the employer or the health plan. Using an independent third party can help assure employees that their employer will not have access to private health information. A simple Google search will identify numerous vendors available to employers to offer PHRs to their employees.

Consumers must take a more active role in their health and health care as they are ultimately responsible for making critical decisions. A PHR can help consumers fulfill this responsibility.

More Information

For more information about PHRs, the following sites may prove useful and informative:

Work Cited

(n.d.). Retrieved from PHR Review

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BHCG Monitor: Focus on Health Care Benefits - April 2012