Day: June 13, 2011

Guest Post: Getting Personal with Personal Health Records

Today’s post is a guest blog written by Health Activist and Health IT aficionado Nate Osit. In the spirit of Health Technology, I wanted to get Nate’s perspective on PHRs (Personal Health Records) – what they are, which stage of development they are in, and what Health Activists and patients need to know about the PHR conversation. Nate is a great resource and I’m so glad to have his point of view in our community! Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us, Nate!

Getting Personal with PHRs

Personal Health Records (PHRs) are in many ways an extension of EMR/EHRs, or Electronic Health Records. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The simple, mechanical view of PHRs is that it will give patients electronic access to their medical records. Some organizations are really phoning it in here, and just scanning the paper records and storing them as images on CDs to give to patients. In my opinion, this is about as useful to patients as getting a regular paper copy of their medical records.


The way I look at PHRs is that they are a tool we can use to improve healthcare. The goal of PHR technology is to give patients the opportunity to become more involved in their healthcare. What is most innovative about PHRs is the ability to turn structured data into human-readable information for patients combined with the ability of patients to contribute their own data to the record from home. Human-readable data can come in the form of printouts for patients like the Blue Button Project, or in various form of visualized data including charts, graphs, and info-graphics.


When it comes to educating patients about PHRs, there are a number of key points to remember. The first point I would emphasize is that you should have access to this information as soon as possible. However, the information is most likely not going to be complete. Especially for older patients, the process of taking a 300 page medical record and transforming it into structured data is going to take years, if not decades. However, new EHR software makes the process much easier, and anything that your physician has access to through their EHR should be available to you through a patient portal that you can use to compile your PHR. I would urge compassion and understanding as well, as this is a complicated process for many physicians and they’ll be learning along with you.


There’s a number of reasons that patients are not being included in the PHR movement as much as they should be. The largest is that right now Health IT is focused on developing software to meet the ONC’s Meaningful Use initiatives in order to qualify for incentives. The focus of Meaningful Use is EHRs rather than PHRs, but it’s certainly an area where increased patient involvement would be beneficial. Once healthcare providers become accustomed to entering electronic health data, it should be easier to get that information in formats that are meaningful to patients.


What can health activists do? They can support the ONC’s Meaningful Use initiatives, which are designed to get all healthcare providers in the U.S. using electronic records. This will be a struggle for most, and there are some barriers to adoption, but it’s a necessary step towards more rich, meaningful doctor-patient relationships. Another thing health activists can do is begin to explore PHRs, and see what information they can begin to store and track electronically. PHRs have the capability to make us all into true e-Patients, with full access to our data and control over our health.

For more information about PHRs, check out

If don’t already – please follow Nate on Twitter @NateOsit and check out his site and his blog Bio-Digital Jazz and visit his WEGO Health Profile.

What do you think about PHRs or EMRs? How do you think patients can get into the conversation?

Check out this discussion “Who Owns the Electronic Health Records” or start your a new one in the Health Technology Group.



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