Records portability Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
The idea of having an ATM card — which allows consumers to access their financial data and money from almost anywhere — is a common concept that most people are familiar with. However, until now, consumers did not have that same type of accessibility when it came to information about their personal health.


That type of assumption may change with the continued expansion of personal health records.

“A personal health record can provide consumers with a simple, customized, portable health history, which could be invaluable whether you are having your yearly physical or experiencing a medical emergency,” says Bill Berenson, vice president of sales and service for Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business in the North Central Region. “The steps that insurers, employers and physicians are taking together to make these types of records accessible, secure and easy to use for consumers is one of the most positive trends in our industry today.”

Smart Business spoke with Berenson, who answered some basic questions about personal health records (PHRs) and the impact they can have on individual consumers, as well as employers that offer them to their work force.

What is a personal health record?

A personal health record (PHR) is a patient-focused electronic history of an individual’s health and his or her respective encounters with the health care system.

Are there different types of PHRs?

There are two types of basic PHRs: one that relies on the patient to input data into the record (a patient-populated PHR), and one that is populated automatically by clinical data derived from health insurance claims forms (a claims-populated PHR). There are also some PHRs that combine elements of both of these types, allowing information to be input from both clinical data and directly from the patient.

More advanced PHRs use sophisticated clinical rules engines to constantly analyze the clinical data in the PHR and send warnings or alerts if the patient appears to be receiving the wrong therapy or medication.

Who keeps this type of information secure?

All PHRs are maintained securely on behalf of the individual, usually by a custodian. In many cases, the health insurer can serve as the custodian, as it already has most of the information that would be included.

Securing this personal information and keeping it private are two of the most important characteristics of the personal health record.

Will PHRs impact the physician/patient relationship?

A PHR has the ability to enhance the collaborative element of the relationship between a patient and his or her physician. With a PHR, patients can input information that a physician might not be aware of, such as what type of over-the-counter medications they take or their family history as it pertains to a specific health condition. As a result of receiving additional information about their patients, physicians have a greater opportunity to help improve the overall health of these patients.

How can personal health records help employers that offer them to workers?

PHRs can help consumers become more informed about their own health care and be more active in the health care process, which often leads to better health outcomes. For employers, an employee who is consistently healthier is likely to be more productive when they are at work and also will miss less time because of health-related issues.

Personal health records are one of the most exciting and promising initiatives in the health care industry today, offering benefits for both health care consumers and their employers. As PHRs continue to emerge, it is important for employers to find out if their respective insurers offer PHRs, and if so, how they might be able to help their specific employee population.

BILL BERENSON is vice president of sales and service for Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business in the North Central Region. Reach him at (312) 928-3323 or