Medem, a not-for-profit group that operates physician-patient communication networks, last week launched no-cost electronic personal health records for the general public. The program, called iHealthRecord, is the result of a multiyear collaboration led by Medem and supported by about 45 major medical societies, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.
At iHealthRecord’s launch last week in Washington, D.C., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), founder of the Center for Health Transformation, said, “What you have now with the iHealthRecord is in fact a partnership with physicians, at a practical level, to begin developing the habit of going to the Internet to check your own health status, to monitor your own health conditions, to have a dialogue with your physicians.” He added that the iHealthRecord is a “very important practical interim step in the right direction.”
According to Medem CEO Edward Fotsch, M.D., the program has the potential to better engage patients in health care IT. “Most consumers believe that their doctor already has an electronic medical record,” he said, adding, “With an integration of a personal health record, you know immediately if a physician has electronic medical record technology because, if they do, they will help you update your record.”
Fotsch likened the introduction of interactive health records to the advent of ATMs in banking, saying consumers did not care if banks were digital until that digital capability allowed some banks to offer ATM services, which became popular among consumers. Like ATMs, interactive health records should make it clear to the consumer which providers are ahead of the technological curve.
Fotsch said there has been “tremendous” response to the program since it was introduced. More than 10,000 patients have signed up for the program through approximately 90,000 physician practice Web sites and the iHealthRecord Web site. In addition, more than 350 media outlets have covered the program, which has led to increased demand among consumers, physicians and insurers.
Once patients sign up for iHealthRecord, they can create a PHR that can be accessed by physicians and emergency departments. Information contained in the records includes current medical conditions, medications, previous surgeries and treatments and end-of-life directives. The service also provides patients with education programs specific to their conditions, and it generates reminders to take medications and alerts from the FDA about safety warnings and recalls.
Thousands of patients engaged in beta versions of the site. Fotsch noted that the program is pretty “simple stuff” but that most consumers have never had a place to enter this kind of information. “It’s not hard, it’s just never been done before,” he said. He added that “we can always create a better user experience, so we’re active in that.”
According to Fotsch, patients “far and away prefer having this provided by their physicians.” Although patients can register at the iHealthRecord site, the vast majority have signed up through their physicians’ Web sites. “Patients don’t want this through some portal in the sky, they want it through their doctor,” Fotsch said.
Adoption has been consistent across the board in terms of rural vs. urban communities. Fotsch noted that Internet connectivity is important to rural communities, especially agricultural communities that rely on the Internet to help run their farms.
According to Fotsch, about a dozen EMR vendors are lined up to make their products compatible with the iHealthRecord. He added that the other group that they have heard quite a bit from is health plans that want to create data feeds so the health records can be updated by the plans. Two health plans – ConnectiCare and a “major Blue” – are committed to making this happen. He added that others are likely to follow.
“It’s obvious that consumers, patients and caregivers want help in maintaining the accuracy of personal health records,” Fotsch said.