Consumers remain wary of personal health records

Adoption rates to remain 'modest' over the next one to three years, IDC says

Personal health records are a method of storing and accessing health information online, and while big-name companies like Google and Microsoft are behind the largest of these data stores, adoption of the services remains stagnant, a new survey and research report found.

In the "2011 Connected Health Consumer Survey" by IDC Health Insights, the vast majority of 1,200 respondents indicated that they aren't using a personal health record (PHR) tool because they have yet to be exposed to one, according to the research firm, which released the results of the survey this month.

IDC's survey and report focused on the progress that PHR platforms, such as Dossia, Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault , have made over the past five years or so.

The report compared survey results from 2006 and 2011 and found that in each year only 7% of the respondents reported ever having used a PHR. And in those two years, 51% and 50.6% of the respondents, respectively, indicated they didn't use a PHR system because they hadn't been exposed to one. Two other primary reasons for not using a PHR system were that the respondents didn't seek much medical care (just 10% in 2006 and 17% in 2011 said they did) and they didn't trust the security of the Internet-based sites (10% of the respondents in both 2006 and 2011 said they felt that way).

Respondents to the 2011 survey rated both Microsoft's and Google's PHR platforms nearly identically: 23.4% reported that they were somewhat comfortable or very comfortable with Google or Microsoft collecting their health information. Meanwhile, 27.2% and 26.3%, respectively, reported that they were neutral or not sure of using Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault.

In the 2011 survey, 28% of the respondents indicated that they would use a PHR system if their physician recommended doing so.

However, of those who had been using a PHR tool, 15% said they stopped using it because they either didn't want a record of their sensitive health information or they didn't trust the security of Internet-based PHR sites. Another 18% said they don't seek much care and so don't see the value of a PHR, while 13% indicated that they didn't want to have to spend time setting up the record and updating the information. Another 9.4% said that they had lost their usernames or passwords and couldn't access their information.

PHR users can choose who is able to access their records. If a consumer gave his doctor access to his PHR system, the doctor would then be able to update the consumer's file with information such as test results, radiological images, scheduling reminders, prescriptions, immunization records and other treatment-related information.

Hospital or physician websites are the source of 25% of the PHR systems that respondents to the 2011 survey use, while health plan websites account for 21.4%. Physicians continue to play a major role in PHR use: 36.9% of the respondents who use PHR systems said they do so because it was recommended to them by their care provider (e.g., a physician, specialist, or nurse) and 13.5% of those who don't said they would use one if their care provider recommended it, IDC stated in its report.

One problem that has plagued PHR platforms that aren't provided by third parties like Google and Microsoft is that when consumers switch health plans or employers, information stored in their sponsored or tethered PHR systems could not be readily transferred to a new system, thus discouraging people from adopting a new PHR system, according to the report.

But tools like Dossia, Microsoft HealthVault, and Google Health were developed to help people aggregate their health information in one place even if they changed employers or health plans or were treated by multiple healthcare providers.

For example, Walmart was the first employer to offer Dossia's PHR system to its employees, but other companies, including AT&T, BP America, Intel , Pitney Bowes, and Vanguard Health System, have also rolled out Dossia PHRs. In all, 90,000 people have access to Dossia through their employers, IDC said.

The research firm predicts that PHR adoption rates will be modest over the next one to three years.

Read more about health care in Computerworld's Health Care Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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