Jayde Steckowych, MD, an otolaryngologist with Tri-County ENT in Mahwah, N.J., said it happens way too often: Patients come to her for a medical opinion, but they don’t have full information on the history of what ails them.
Explore this issue:February 2015
“Where’s your previous hearing test? Where’s that result?” she will ask. “Are you sure this is normal?”
The response she sometimes gets is, “They told me it was.”
She will occasionally have to ask the patient to go back to the center that performed the test, get the report, and then come back. “You hate to put them through it,” Dr. Steckowych said.
It’s situations like this that have Dr. Steckowych excited about the slow-but-sure rise of the personal health record (PHR).
Increasingly, physicians and patients alike are becoming more aware of the importance of ease of access to all of a patient’s health information. Much of this awareness is mandate driven, with federal meaningful use financial incentives propelling physicians to adopt technology in ways that will truly contribute to better patient care.
But there is a groundswell aspect, as well, born of a culture in which people now consider it standard to have information kept not only electronically but easily accessible via a few keystrokes, clicks of a mouse, or swipes and taps on a smartphone.
The PHR label is typically used to mean a person’s total body of health data, across all of their health practitioners and even including information that they themselves have assembled, whether with paper and pen or with apps that track everything from blood pressure to steps walked to calories eaten. In that sense, a PHR is different from an electronic health record (EHR), which is often just a reference to an individual patient’s electronic file kept at a specific clinic or hospital.
But the shape of today’s PHR is due in large part to the dawn of the EHR. If everything were still on paper, it might take a few briefcases and considerable muscle to cart around all of your health information.
To a large extent, the compilation of a complete PHR depends on the ability of EHRs to “talk” to each other, or at least for all of a patient’s EHRs to be accessible in one place. And, more and more, systems that will make this happen are being created.
Current Efforts to Promote PHRs
At the federal level, the Blue Button initiative gives patients access to their health records and insurance information online, as long as the entities from which they receive care are participating.