PHR Concept Maturing, But Still Not Popular With Consumers

Posted on July 23, 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

Folks, what do you think would happen if you asked, say, five or ten of your non-HIT friends what a PHR was?  And if you explained it to them, how many would actually have used one?  Thirty percent?  Twenty percent?  My friends ranked at about ten.

Given the benefits that would result if patients paid close attention to their health data, it’s certainly a shame that few know what PHRs are. It’s not as though we in the industry aren’t trying to get the word out and the tools into the right hands, but so far progress is slow and many promotional efforts are quite new.

Take government. Just last week ONC launched its own effort trying to move the PHR puck forward on the ice. The ONC launched a video contest, “What’s In Your Health Record??” in which individuals and groups are invited to submit short videos explaining how PHR use has improved their care. The agency plans to hand out six awards totaling $7,200 to lucky winners.

Private industry hasn’t given up either. In June, the AARP launched a partnership with Microsoft in which the senior advocacy group set plans to offer an “AARP Health Record.”  The Health Record, which is powered by Microsoft HealthVault, is free to AARP members.  I haven’t found a stat telling me just how many seniors have signed up, but color me skeptical.

I’ve been carping about the flaws in the PHR concept for several years now, and I have to admit that it’s matured. Originally, most of the benefit of the PHR was supposed to be that it offered extra access to medical data in an emergency situation.  Clearly, that can’t have been a compelling proposition, because it didn’t exactly drive consumers to use them.

Today, though, the idea of the PHR has broadened into a patient self-advocacy tool, one which — if used appropriately — can concretely reduce risks and improve the quality of care. There’s even consumer-lite friendly versions of PHRs, such as the intriguing

But the reality is, many patients simply don’t feel up to or don’t bother to pay that much attention to what their doctor is doing. It’s going to take a lot more outreach, and a lot more education, to get patients on board.