Where Are Your Health Records?
What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a visit to the doctor's office? If it's filling out forms, you're not alone; it's a common frustration for patients nationwide. Detailed questions about your past medical history fill the pages, causing anxiety and leading to a guessing game of inaccuracies. Understandably, few people can recall the exact dates of their last immunizations or the name of the antibiotic they took back in 1986. But that information exists somewhere.
More than likely your health records are strewn across the offices and databases of a wide array of doctors, pharmacies, and insurance providers. So before you even visit the doctor, you may have to spend hours on the phone, tracking down information with mixed success. The process, as it exists, often results in redundant tests, wasted time and resources, and extra costs to the patient and the healthcare system.
The Benefits of a Personal Health Record
There has to be a better way, right? The future of healthcare, many believe, will be organized around the Personal Health Record (PHR). It's a simple idea: a record of your health information a timeline of health issues, lab tests, past medications, immunizations, and physical stats all in one place, maintained and managed (primarily) by you. An ideal PHR would be a comprehensive collection of data from many sources hospitals, pharmacies, past doctors organized in a user-friendly way and made accessible to appropriate entities with the necessary credentials.
The principal goal of an effective PHR is improving patient safety, says Colin Evans, CEO of Dossia, one of America's largest private PHR vendors. For one thing, mistakes in medical records create unnecessary additional financial burdens. Medical Billing Advocates of America estimates that eight out of 10 hospital bills are incorrect, filled with errors that can adversely affect your insurance coverage. But more importantly, mistakes are also dangerous: in a landmark 2000 report, the Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die in hospitals each year as the result of medical errors. Presumably, many more people are not getting the care they need because of mistakes in their medical records.
And even if all your records are accurate, they're likely dispersed and disconnected, rendering them ineffectual. "From both a safety and coordination of care perspective, your data needs to be in one place," says Evans. PHRs could create a system where your doctor will see a complete timeline of your blood tests and prescription history as well as your gym membership and appointment history and thus be able to provide more personal and appropriate treatment.
Ideally, an effective PHR would provide patients with an easy way to amend mistakes on their records. Currently, federal laws require that healthcare providers give patients access to their health records and force providers to respond to patient concerns, but the process for patient review is clunky and differs from state to state. PHRs give patients the opportunity to play a greater role in their own healthcare and have a louder voice in the greater healthcare discussion.
Dr. Jason Hwang of the Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank working in the the healthcare sector, believes PHRs will also keep providers honest. For an example of success, he pointed to the auto industry, where studies have shown that a very small group (2% to 5%) of active consumers who look up consumer reports and safety records before they buy a car have been able to push the entire market and cause manufacturers to produce higher quality and safer cars. "The same thing is needed in healthcare," says Hwang. "But we don't have that vocal minority, nor do we give them the resources that would enable them to make a difference." Both Hwang and Evans believe that PHRs are a necessary starting point to providing the patient/consumer with the resources needed to make positive changes in the healthcare industry.