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Musings on PHRs & Consumer Engagement

by John Moore | May 16, 2011

The recent post on Google Health going into the deep freeze has solicited a number of emails, including some from the press. In one of those emails a reporter had spoken to several industry thought leaders to garner their opinions which follow:

Consumers will not sign on to most Personal Health Platforms (PHPs) or services due to the issue of trust.
Leading researcher and developer of an open PHP.

Provider sponsored PHPs and patient portals will dominate the market for they offer services that patients/consumers want such as appointment scheduling, prescription refill requests, etc.
Leading CIO who is also actively involved in HIT policy development.

The only people who care about a PHP, PHR, whatever you wish to call it are those who are struggling with a life-changing illness.
– Co-founder of leading site for those with serious illness to gather and share experiences.

Chilmark’s thesis is an amalgamation of the last two statements (we’ll get to the first one shortly).

By and large, people do not care about their healthcare until they have to, either for themselves or a loved one. Even then, if they are very sick, it may be far more than they are capable of to set-up and maintain a PHP. These systems are still far too hard to create and manage, let alone trying to get doctors and hospitals to feed complete records and updates into them in some automated fashion. There may be an opportunity in providing a system for baby boomers to help manage their aging parents health issues from afar. We have yet to find a PHP, PHR, whatever you wish to call it that ideally fits this market need and may be an opportunity for an enterprising entrepreneur.

As we have stated many times before, consumers are not terribly interested in a digital file cabinet for their records. What they are interested in is what that data can do for them, particularly on the transaction side. In the “what’s in it for me” category, consumers seek convenience in all aspects of their lives. If they are presented with a system that not only grants them access to their records, but helps them schedule appts, directly communicate with their care team via email, do Rx refill requests, etc. then you’ll see some adoption. THis supports the statement of the healthcare CIO above.
But even then it may not see strong adoption if clinicians are not strong advocates of its use. In deference to the first comment above from the researcher, trust does matter and patients/consumers do trust their doctors. If the doctor encourages use, adoption will follow.
Unfortunately, sites like Google Health, HealthVault and Dossia ¬†as well as a slew of other independent PHR companies are one step removed from these types of transactions and their use is not actively encouraged by clinicians, leading to anemic adoption rates. And even within healthcare organizations, there is often not strong support among clinicians for patients to use the organization’s sponsored, tethered PHR.
Will the HITECH Act, meaningful use requirements, the move to bundled payments based on quality, the establishment of Accountable Care Organizations, the creation of individualized care plans, the desire to transition to true patient-centered care, will any of these initiatives change the market dynamics for PHPs, PHRs, etc.? One could hypothesize yes, of course. But we’ll go back to the preceding paragraph: Until physicians/clinicians actively promote the use of such systems by their patients and the systems themselves become far easier to use and address specific consumer/patient pain points, the growth prospects for this niche market will remain flat-lined.

Stay up to the minute.

“As biometric data becomes cheaper and easier to collect through smart sensors, devices, and mobile apps, expect to see more innovations in consumer health.”

-Alicia Vergaras