Make Consumers Want Their PHR

This week, Microsoft announced that it was launching a new PHR product in cooperation with the AARP.  The AARP Health Record which will be connected with Microsoft HealthVault, is free to AARP members.  Yay! Uh, well, maybe not so exciting.

Honestly, most of what it’s offering is a big  yawn from where I sit. I admit it would be pretty neat if the elderly started using connected health applications to monitor their chronic conditions and work more closely with doctors. And the ability to import your prescription list from your pharmacy is a nice time saver.  But basically, this appears to reinvent a wheel nobody wants on their car in the first place.

I’ve been watching employers, tech companies and providers do their little dance on the catwalk for several years, and in almost every case, the PHR doesn’t really engage anybody.  (I confess to being mildly interested in using the PHR my insurance company offers, but the very fact that I write this blog makes me different than most consumers.)

If you want to get people excited about using a PHR, you’ve got to offer them some payback. You’ve got to give them something they want in exchange for becoming a health data clerk:

*  Reward them directly:  Why not send consumers a small but smart gift when they’ve used the PHR a certain number of times?   A small card and a free cup of cafeteria coffee can work wonders.

* Give them what they want:  By this point, patients should be able to log on and make appointments, check lab results and the like.  Predicate their using the good stuff on their having shared the basic info needed to get started with their PHR.

* Market the heck out of it:  When Kaiser Permanente launched a portal/PHR a few years ago, it spent millions blanketing the airwaves, local TV, mailboxes and other media promoting its benefits. This worked, after long and patient efforts.  If the info you need from the PHR is that important, follow KP’s example.

I’ve been screaming about how little good PHR efforts were, including MS and Google’s, for as long as the term has existed. Maybe this one will be different somehow?  Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet my last pocket change on it.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • While I go through EHR / HealthIT Implementation Manager training (I’m a long time IT person with some hospital background as well), I wanted to setup my own PHR both to get to understand PHR’s better and because I want family members to set them up. Right now, the only viable choice for me is MS’s HealthVault. Of course, as a middle aged guy, I’ve got a lot to put in, and I wanted to do a dump from 2 years of insurance coverage under one company to feed into my PHR. It turns out that the insurance company will only allow export of CCR and CCD based records for patients whose employers have paid extra for that privilege. You can cut and paste a list into Excel, but HV currently has no provisions to import health data in some simple text or Excel format. I’m not sure they even understood a need until I contacted them; hopefully this is now on a list for them.

    My point, though, is that for PHR’s to become popular, they not only need to be well marketed, they also need to be well designed, easy to use and comprehensive. I don’t want to type in a huge number of records of prescriptions, doctor’s visits, etc. by hand; too much work, too much chance of error; when I have the info in a file, I need a way to import it.

    And then there is HV’s GUI. It is, at best confusing. And that’s to an IT professional. And to someone was first exposed to HealthIT 40 years ago.

    I think a lot of work is needed before PHR usage becomes widespread.

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