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Health Records Get PersonalIn one of those remarkable confluences that suggest a trend, two major press conferences were conducted late last year pertaining to personal health records, or PHRs. First, a handful of companies, including Intel and Wal-Mart, announced a PHR project called "Dossia." Combined, these companies employ some 2.5 million people. Then, a few days later, Aetna and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association announced a major PHR initiative.Although neither group knew much about the other's effort, they both praised PHRs as resolving the information disparity that continues to raise costs and threaten safety. In essence, these PHRs would enable patients to consolidate care documentation. Residing on secure Web servers, these records would include data from various sources, even patients themselves. In the health plans' model, claims data would feed into the PHR, consolidating pharmacy, medications and test information in one convenient place. Thus, patients could monitor their charts and, hopefully, spot errors.Now, all of this is well and good. Arming us patients with information can only educate us-and maybe prevent mistakes. But I do question whether PHRs can fulfill their patrons' dreams and become more than mere technology du jour. Can they address larger, more perplexing issues? Two big ones are skyrocketing healthcare costs and the lack of connectivity among industry players that fuels those costs. I can envision how a PHR, by consolidating basic information, might save time for physicians-that is, once they figure out how to deal with multiple versions of PHRs showing up at the door. It's also unclear to me how the ample supply of physician practices without electronic medical record systems would benefit. Even those with EMRs would need technology and documentation protocols compatible with the dueling databases of competing PHRs.The scenario evokes the old technology riddle: To whom did the first fax machine owner send a fax?


Correction: The 2007 HealthLeaders Annual CIO Survey in our February 2007 issue gave incorrect data about IT steering group membership. Here are the percentages of such groups that include the following C-suite leaders:Chief financial officer, 76 percenyChief nursing officer, 76 percentChief executive officer, 58 percentChief medical officer, 55 percentChief operating officer, 55 percent -Gary Baldwin