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Personal E-health Records May Give Automation a Push

July 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - This version of this article originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition

Microsoft, Google and Dossia are all developing Web sites where individuals can aggregate personal health records from a variety of sources. The data in a PHR can be formatted to fit onto a USB drive or DVD-ROM that the user can easily carry. In an emergency, a PHR could provide a doctor with basic information about a patient, such as his allergies or prescriptions. But doctors say it is no substitute for a more detailed, institutional electronic health record.

Providers may "dumb down" summary data for a PHR, and users can add or delete information. "That may shoot it down with physicians," says John Quinn, chief technology officer at standards group HL7.

Dossia will release its PHR to 7 million employees of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and several other founding companies this year; Microsoft's Health Vault is already online.

But will people use them? John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, thinks that about 20% of users will find creating a PHR to be worthwhile. And those early adopters may start demanding that providers maintain health care records in electronic form. "Some good use cases will start forcing labs, clinics and hospitals to start producing clinical summaries in the national format," Halamka says. In that way, PHRs could prompt providers to finally get their own, internal electronic records systems in order.

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