Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault are dead but PHRs are very much alive
It may not be “officially” official, but for most tech watchers it’s official enough: Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault are dead. In suspended animation, stasis, put out to pasture. Those mighty giants of tech have turned their focus elsewhere and are leaving their brief dalliances with PHRs (personal health records) to the wind and the weeds. Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault had attracted interest and excitement in their early days, and were even used in a VA trial of PHRs for service personnel. But the Goliaths’ inevitable abandonment of their PHR products is probably a good thing, and here’s why.
For PHRs or EMRs (electronic medical records) to be useful, they need to produce results. This means providing some measurable improvements in health over time: Health of individuals and health of populations. While solid proof that health IT can actually improve health over time is still being actualized, one thing is certain: Health information providers have to be in the game for the long haul. Personal health records and EMRs shouldn’t simply be a side-line venture, they need to be the main focus of the organizations that develop and maintain them. Having my health information easily accessible for a couple weeks, months, or years isn’t good enough. I, and my doctor, need to be assured that my info and the systems supporting access to it, are durable for the long haul. Health and healthcare are not part of Microsoft and Google’s core competencies, so they should steer clear.
Of course monsters like Microsoft and Google offer the potential advantage of offering free services, but Practice Fusion proves that smaller size is no impediment to innovation. Their growing community of EMR users spans 80,000 health care providers serving 10 million patients. Health IT is their focus, not a side-line. And their product is free (funded by advertising), a major advantage considering that the first-year costs to implement a typical EMR system is estimated to be $46,000 per physician or $233,000 for a 5-doctor practice.
Integrated into Practice Fusion’s EMR is a PHR option, something that should be required of all EMRs for a number of reasons including the following:
- Improving health and managing disease has to be a cooperative effort between doctor and patient, so both parties need access to clinical information.
- Its hard to imagine efforts at providing ethically-based, patient-centered care such as ACO’s and medical homes succeeding without patient-accessible medical records.
- We all know that patients are already on the internet searching for health information, much of it of dubious validity. Why not empower them with the access to the actual data that is the story of their (clinical) health.
- My medical records should belong to me. This means I should have timely and easy access to them.
- PHRs seem like a prime means of abiding by federal “meaningful use” guidelines that call for clinicians to provide clinical summaries, and requested medical records to patients.
And speaking of meaningful use, if regulators are really serious about the value of EMRs, why not allow physicians who opt for free systems, and providers of free systems such as Practice Fusion, have access to some of the $20 billion in funding aimed at offsetting implementation costs? These incentives cap-out at about $63,000 over five years per practice, but the idea that incentives are only available to folks who invest in high priced systems seems like a strange value proposition. Especially if that high price may be unnecessary.
Ano Lobb, MPH
Master of Health Care Delivery Science Program,