Electronic health records

In July, 2007, UPMC Health Plan introduced “MyHealth Record,” a new online
personal health record that provides members with access to a convenient and
secure tool for improved health management. Smart Business spoke with Michael
Taylor, executive director, Marketing and
Communications, about personal electronic health records and the important employer issues and concerns regarding its
administration and use.

Why is it important to encourage the use of
an electronic personal health record?

What many insurers and leaders of health
care systems are discovering is that the
best way to care for members and patients
is to help them to care for themselves. An
electronic personal health record empowers users by offering a ‘hands on’ approach
to managing health information in a secure
and easily accessible manner. Effective use
of the tool closes gaps in care and promotes better health. If used in concert with
providers, an electronic personal health
record can reduce or eliminate duplicate
procedures or processes.

What are the essential parts of an effective
electronic personal health record?

To be effective and for it to gain acceptance with the public, an electronic personal health record must be both secure and
easily accessible. Member health confidentiality must be a priority. The same level of
security that is standard in the banking and
finance industries should be in place for
electronic personal health records.

How can members become engaged in the
concept of electronic personal health

Members are given a comprehensive and
educational way to manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, and even
track progress to maintain a healthy lifestyle through weight management or tobacco cessation tips. This tool also gives
members a chance to take an active role in
their health care, while also improving
communication with their primary care
physician and specialists. It also enables
them to track such things as appointments,
vaccinations and progress toward their
individual health-related goals, while keeping information organized and current. A
personal health record is easily accessible
from any online connection at all times.

How does an electronic personal health
record differ from a record a member might
keep on his or her own?

An electronic personal health record not
only stores personal health information, it
can also provide the chance for members
to add detailed personal information, such
as family health history, that can help a
doctor make a more informed diagnosis. In
addition, complete histories can help eliminate repeat medical tests and guard
against adverse drug interactions.

A personal health record also provides a
chance to view past claims data and review
lab screening results or diagnostic tests.

Why should employers be enthusiastic about
increased use of electronic personal health

A mechanism that helps consumers to
get more involved and knowledgeable
about their own health can not only bring
down overall health costs, but improve the
delivery of health care, which would benefit employers, providers, health systems
and insurers alike. Whether you are managing a chronic condition or trying to maintain good health, an electronic personal
health record can help. It can remind you
about important appointments and screenings. It can print information that you can
share with your physician. These are features that will encourage use.

What can we expect to happen as a result of
more widespread use of the electronic personal health record?

An electronic personal health record is
not a panacea for modern medicine; it is
just one tool. However, it is a tool that generates a lot of positive publicity because it
has the potential to improve the quality of
care as well as the personal experience of
patients. At present, members have limited
access to their own health records. With
this system they can more control. By
empowering consumers in this manner,
there will be substantial changes, and,
most of them will be for the better.

What will be the ultimate cost benefit to the

The cost benefit to the consumer is inestimable. If, as expected, widespread use of
personal health records decreases medical
errors and reduces duplication in tests and
procedures, it will reduce the cost of health
care, which will directly benefit all consumers. In the United States, the cost of
medical errors is estimated at about 20 percent of the health budget. That, of course,
does not measure the human cost of such
errors. The gains we see in efficiency
through increased use of this tool should
more than offset other costs related to it.

Recent provider participation feedback
around the United States indicates that the
standards for sharing information and the
interoperability of systems are essential elements of success. What’s your view on this?

Yes, it appears that interoperability of systems will be essential for widespread use
of the personal health record. I believe that
many of the problems will be overcome as
personal health records become more
commonplace and the need for interoper-ability will become more obvious.

MICHAEL TAYLOR is executive director of Marketing and
Communications at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7534 or [email protected].