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A Vote of Confidence

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CMS' pilot program that lets Medicare patients choose a personal health record company to maintain their electronic records shows PHR acceptance is continuing to grow.

Personal health records are gaining wider acceptance among even those who are typically slow to adopt new technologies. Case in point: Acting Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Kerry Weems and HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt recently announced they have chosen four PHR companies for a pilot program in which Medicare patients can choose one of the PHR companies to maintain their health record information electronically.

Under the Medicare PHR Choice Pilot program, which begins in early 2009, seniors in Arizona and Utah can access their personal health data from CMS databases using Google Health, HealthTrio, NoMoreClipboard.com, and PassportMD. The move by CMS to pilot PHR technology is significant because the agency is widely recognized as being very conservative when it comes to adopting new technologies, as John Halamka, MD, CIO of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center points out in his blog. "The fact that CMS has linked the Medicare database to Google Health and other PHRs implies that CMS has embraced Healthcare 2.0 approaches to infrastructure and has validated the importance of personal health records," he writes.

Medicare's pilot program may also mean more than just the wider adoption of PHRs among the public. Because CMS is the biggest healthcare payer in the United States, it can also act as a driver of change through reimbursement policy, writes Halamka. "By offering patients access to their own claims data, CMS will create patient expectations that will motivate the private payer community to do the same."

Despite CMS' vote of confidence for PHRs, however, it remains to be seen whether the roughly 1 million fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries within the pilot project boundaries will choose to participate. Since CMS has left it up to the vendors to educate the residents of Arizona and Utah about how PHRs operate, it will be interesting to see how much they can accomplish before the program launches.

Kathryn Mackenzie

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