Make Consumers Want Their PHR

Posted on June 7, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

This week, Microsoft announced that it was launching a new PHR product in cooperation with the AARP.  The AARP Health Record which will be connected with Microsoft HealthVault, is free to AARP members.  Yay! Uh, well, maybe not so exciting.

Honestly, most of what it’s offering is a big  yawn from where I sit. I admit it would be pretty neat if the elderly started using connected health applications to monitor their chronic conditions and work more closely with doctors. And the ability to import your prescription list from your pharmacy is a nice time saver.  But basically, this appears to reinvent a wheel nobody wants on their car in the first place.

I’ve been watching employers, tech companies and providers do their little dance on the catwalk for several years, and in almost every case, the PHR doesn’t really engage anybody.  (I confess to being mildly interested in using the PHR my insurance company offers, but the very fact that I write this blog makes me different than most consumers.)

If you want to get people excited about using a PHR, you’ve got to offer them some payback. You’ve got to give them something they want in exchange for becoming a health data clerk:

*  Reward them directly:  Why not send consumers a small but smart gift when they’ve used the PHR a certain number of times?   A small card and a free cup of cafeteria coffee can work wonders.

* Give them what they want:  By this point, patients should be able to log on and make appointments, check lab results and the like.  Predicate their using the good stuff on their having shared the basic info needed to get started with their PHR.

* Market the heck out of it:  When Kaiser Permanente launched a portal/PHR a few years ago, it spent millions blanketing the airwaves, local TV, mailboxes and other media promoting its benefits. This worked, after long and patient efforts.  If the info you need from the PHR is that important, follow KP’s example.

I’ve been screaming about how little good PHR efforts were, including MS and Google’s, for as long as the term has existed. Maybe this one will be different somehow?  Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet my last pocket change on it.