The Behind-the-Scenes Battle for Your Medical History

Investigating the competitive bid for your personal health records – a who's who of the key industry players.

I recently dedicated a Saturday to necessary tune-ups, including a trip to Jiffy Lube and a visit to the doctor.

The Jiffy Lube waiting room, while not luxurious, was entirely amenable. Vending machines offered food and drink. A large sign clearly listed the pricing for various repairs, and an assortment of popular car products, such as windshield wipers and air fresheners, were available for purchase. After only twenty minutes of waiting, an associate presented me with my retooled car and a one-page summary of the work that had been completed: tires balanced, oil replaced, brake fluid checked. A printed graphic even told me the exact measure of my antifreeze prior to replacement (just one-eighth full!). The associate placed a removable sticker on the inside of my windshield, reminding me to return for my next check-up, and sent me on my way.

An hour later, I was at my physician’s office, waiting to get the results of some recent blood tests. Apart from a few old magazines, there were no amenities in the waiting area, and it was long past my designated appointment time when I was finally guided into an exam room. After several more minutes, a doctor burst into the room with my chart. She scanned the results of my blood work – clearly looking at them for the first time – and declared, simply, “Everything looks good.”

While happy to hear the news, I wanted to know more. Could she see trends based on my prior blood tests? Were there areas for improvement or concern – however slight? I waited for greater detail, but the doctor, pressed by the needs of other patients, didn’t have time to talk. I left the office with little more than a verbal stamp of approval.

In the area of personal health, knowledge offers more than reassurance; it provides key insight into behavioral risks and biological dangers, allowing us to alter our habits and minimize the threat of disease. Yet today, the complex system of American health care has created an information nightmare for all involved, making it difficult for consumers to either access or understand their medical information. Beyond the waste of time and expense this situation entails, this complexity costs lives.

Sadly, my medical tune-up was not an anomaly. It is emblematic of a much larger issue, shared by consumers of every demographic – we want and need a better way to manage our health.

In recent years, consumers have turned to the Internet for medical information, leveraging factual and anecdotal content alike to answer personal health questions. Message boards teem with symptoms, stories, and self-diagnosis, and informative health sites draw a continuous stream of traffic. Over 160 million adults in the US – 71% of the adult population – have looked for health information online. Half of adults have looked online for health information within the last month.1

Experts agree that the next milestone in online health care will be the widespread adoption of a web-based Personal Health Record (PHR).

Ideally, PHRs provide a complete and comprehensive medical history, starting from birth and progressing through adulthood to include vaccinations, medications, allergies, illnesses, hospitalizations, surgeries, and family history. But when patients change cities or doctors, they often fail to have their records transferred from one hospital to the next – and rarely maintain a copy for themselves. Our Personal Health Records are, more often than not, dangerously incomplete.

In the last few years, a new push has been made to transfer the PHR to the online space, facilitating easy maintenance by patient and caregiver alike. By allowing a fluent exchange of information between medical professionals, as well as between those doctors and the patient himself, PHRs benefit both the system and the consumer. They allow doctors to proceed with greater knowledge of the patient at hand, eliminating duplicate tests and preventing dangerous drug interactions or allergies. And they enable consumers to review their medical records and use this data to better manage their own health.

The demand for PHRs is clear, but the market itself is cloudy. frog design has identified six types of players that will battle for dominance in the PHR space. Each brings a unique asset to its operating model, each its own concerns.

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