PHR Concept Maturing, But Still Not Popular With Consumers

Folks, what do you think would happen if you asked, say, five or ten of your non-HIT friends what a PHR was?  And if you explained it to them, how many would actually have used one?  Thirty percent?  Twenty percent?  My friends ranked at about ten.

Given the benefits that would result if patients paid close attention to their health data, it’s certainly a shame that few know what PHRs are. It’s not as though we in the industry aren’t trying to get the word out and the tools into the right hands, but so far progress is slow and many promotional efforts are quite new.

Take government. Just last week ONC launched its own effort trying to move the PHR puck forward on the ice. The ONC launched a video contest, “What’s In Your Health Record??” in which individuals and groups are invited to submit short videos explaining how PHR use has improved their care. The agency plans to hand out six awards totaling $7,200 to lucky winners.

Private industry hasn’t given up either. In June, the AARP launched a partnership with Microsoft in which the senior advocacy group set plans to offer an “AARP Health Record.”  The Health Record, which is powered by Microsoft HealthVault, is free to AARP members.  I haven’t found a stat telling me just how many seniors have signed up, but color me skeptical.

I’ve been carping about the flaws in the PHR concept for several years now, and I have to admit that it’s matured. Originally, most of the benefit of the PHR was supposed to be that it offered extra access to medical data in an emergency situation.  Clearly, that can’t have been a compelling proposition, because it didn’t exactly drive consumers to use them.

Today, though, the idea of the PHR has broadened into a patient self-advocacy tool, one which — if used appropriately — can concretely reduce risks and improve the quality of care. There’s even consumer-lite friendly versions of PHRs, such as the intriguing

But the reality is, many patients simply don’t feel up to or don’t bother to pay that much attention to what their doctor is doing. It’s going to take a lot more outreach, and a lot more education, to get patients on board.

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.


  • Let’s see. I’m well aware of HealthVault (warts and all). I’m a member of AARP, but I never heard of any link between them, and I do try to read what AARP sends me.

    Consider HV. Obviously, a huge issue with any PHR is putting in history. If you are old enough to be an AARP member, you’ve got piles of stuff to put in. Maybe, though, you put in a few OTC drugs, and your main health concerns. I tried to go farther. I figured hey, they have an ‘app’ for my insurance company. Kept trying it over and over, finally emailed MS for help.

    Turns out that the app only works IF that insurance company was paid by your employer to allow you to export claims data. Otherwise, maybe you screen scrape some, and go to import it into HV. You discover that HV can only import specific CCR and CCD type records. It seems like it never occurred to them that a simple csv or Excel import might be useful. But hey, that’s just my opinion. But in the meantime, unless you start using HV as a newborn and put in details of everything that happens – by hand, it won’t prove very useful to many people.

    Hopefully it will change. And at least MS is trying. Keep in mind that we don’t want our PHR to belong to an insurance company or to a local HIE, or to our employer – sooner or later we may move on and we want the PHR to come with us. And MS is a country wide neutral PHR.

  • R Troy —

    Glad you’ve given HealthVault a try and certainly sympathize with your challenges; we are working hard to make it easy but it’s a long haul.

    A great option to get started comes from Zweena ( … they will contact your doctors on your behalf to get historical records, scan them and turn them into structured data, and then store it all in your HealthVault record. It’s a GREAT service — not free but reasonable, and a super way to kickstart a record.


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