PHRs: If You Build It, They Will Come

The termination of Google Health has stirred up the PHR/PHP community, making Personal Health Record companies around the world question the viability of a product that not even the tech-magnate Google was able to validate. Some experts and tech-savvy writers blamed the lack of social interaction, a lack in provider interest and, lets face it, a lack in consumer interest. Additionally, Google Health took an over-simplified approach to health records. All you could do is store data digitally, without the ability to analyze and interpret. So, in a market where the concept hasn’t specifically been widely validated, does it make sense to take a risk and build PHR/PHP systems with the assumption that users will eventually flock to the service? I choose yes, and below I try to explain why PHR vendors will in an ever-changing market. 

1. User demographics are quickly changing for the “better”.

While the next few decades will see a never-before encountered retirement group size (dependent on Medicare/Medicaid for health insurance), we have to remember that millennials, as well as the X and Y generations, are now extremely tech savvy, with an intrinsic desire to receive answers and results instantly. Additionally, for the most part, these generations practically live online. In an pervious article, I described my experience as a Millennial Patient. While my opinions may not represent the rest of my generation, I believe that the feeling resonates across many millennials (as proven by comments on my HuffPost article). 

2. Improved technologies and design concepts.

Just as the modern operating system saw its beginnings with the command line (here’s a simple example for you youngsters), the personal health record is seeing it’s conception in seemingly-primitive solutions. While the technology is in place for “beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly” (Simon Sinek) patient portals, many concepts and population/user needs have not yet been validated or confirmed. We have to remember that the industry is still young and extremely fluid. As entrepreneurs experiment and validate, PHRs/PHPs will have their (hopefully more than) 15-minutes of fame.

3. Increasing data-mining and decision-support fidelity.

A critical reason why Google Health failed is because it provided little-to-no ability for users to analyze their data or use it in significant ways, either improving health or predicting future disease impacts. With federal regulations beginning to require EHR vendors to provide ever-improved clinical decision support systems, and with companies heavily-investing in automating diagnosis processes, PHRs will eventually stand to benefit from these decision support systems, giving patients considerable resources to monitor, manage and prevent illness.

4. Increase in popularity and awareness of online solutions.

To this day, few people realize that their health care extenders may provide ways for them to retrieve health data online. There is no marketing strategy put into place on a larger scale, and when individual health systems market their tools, they are often under-represented. To add to that, few patients realize the multitude of resources in-place for patient-centered care. While many patients use the internet for health purposes, many become e-patients only momentarily (e-patients.net white paper), many times forgetting the resources available to them.

5. We need PHRs just like we need touch-screen phones.

A decade ago, touch screen phones were often the subject of ridicule or scrutiny. The technology sucked, the interfaces were utterly unintuitive and the cost-benefit did not make any sense. Outside of the early-adopter circle, touch screen use didn’t see much improvement. Then came the iPhone, setting the new trend of touch-screen hardware and applications, with other mobile phone manufacturers swiftly following along. Ask a person to show you their cellphone today, and more often than not, they will have a touch screen. PHRs/PHPs will likely capture the market by creating a need, rather than serving a pre-existent need. With the increasing focus on patient-centered care, patient access to health information and patient involvement in the health care process, online access to one’s health care will become a need and not simply a fad. Furthermore, with the expansion of predictive technologies, PHPs/PHRs will become health prediction portals, integrating a multitude of data sources, from Fitbit-like data, to individual genomic-type data as provided by 23andme and like companies.

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