Getting personal

As health care consumers visit different
physicians for different needs, it’s
important that their health histories are properly documented and communicated. Thus, the personal health record — an
online tool that may transform the way
health care is delivered — is becoming
increasingly popular.

Its appeal is easy to understand. By giving
health care consumers access to detailed
information about their health care history,
they become empowered to make more
intelligent decisions about their care.

“With a personal health record, we can provide members with more detailed information about their health care and the resources
they need to manage their health,” says
Sharon Hicks, vice president of Internet strategy for UPMC Health Plan. “When you can
turn employees from recipients of health
care into informed consumers of health care,
you can improve health.”

Smart Business spoke with Hicks about
personal health records and how they help
people become more engaged in health care.

What exactly is a personal health record?

A personal health record is an electronic
application through which an individual can
enter health care data or see information that
is prepopulated from provider or insurance
information. That information is related to
the individual’s health status or health care. A
personal health record helps an individual
take a more active role in his or her own
health. Consumers are more empowered
regarding health care decisions when they
have additional information. All information
in a personal health record is private, secure
and confidential. The personal health record
is not intended to diagnose any specific illness; instead it is designed to allow people
access to information to better manage their
issues and to plan their interventions.

How is a personal health record different
from an electronic health record?

An electronic health record serves the
needs of health care professionals — it’s
patient-related information managed by a clinician and/or a health care institution.
Personal health records are a mix of information from the patient, providers and insurers. The individual chooses who to share it
with and what information to add to it.

What information elements would a personal
health record include?

Ideally, it provides a comprehensive summary of the health and medical history of an
individual by compiling data from many
sources. Consumers can see their medical
history through updated claims and health
assessment information. Immunization
schedules, lab results, drug refill reminders,
guidance aimed at managing or preventing a
particular condition and information about
drug allergies may also be part of the personal health record, depending on the needs of
the individual. A personal health record is
interactive and enables consumers to supplement it with personal information, such as
family health histories. Individuals control
the information in their own health records.

What are the benefits of widespread use of
personal health records?

Widespread use of a personal health record
can help close some of the gaps in care and
promote better health through helping people get a full picture of their health. In theory,
when a consumer has greater access to a
wider range of health information, data and
knowledge, he or she is able to leverage that
information to improve health and manage
conditions. Patients who have chronic diseases can use their personal health records
to track progress, provide reminders for services or medications and to consolidate information into one source to aid in continuity of
care. Doctors and health insurers across the
country are realizing the best way to care for
people is to help them care for themselves
through better information and more proactive care. With a personal health record, people can take a more active role in managing
and improving their health.

How would increased use of tools such as the
personal health record impact employers?

Employers of companies both large and
small have plenty of incentive to keep their
work forces healthy. It is imperative that
employers try to find innovative ways to
address the rising costs of health care. If the
health of your work force can be improved as
a result of having your employees become
interactive participants in their own health
care management, you can expect to reduce
organizational health care costs over time.
Because the personal health record promotes a holistic approach to health and puts
the emphasis on prevention, it can, over time,
develop healthier lives. Employers should
encourage their employees to take over control of their health. With the personal health
record, people will learn to pay attention to
their health before they get sick.

How would the increased use of personal
health records impact health care?

When you empower consumers, you open
up a floodgate of possible economic repercussions. If you change people from being
simply passive recipients of health care into
active consumers of health care, it really can
help people improve their health. When people become active in their health and wellness, you can reduce costs in the long run.
Prevention is often the best medicine.

SHARON HICKS is the vice president of Internet strategy for UPMC Health Plan. Reach her at (412) 402-8727 or [email protected].