Rethinking Personal Health Records

Oct 18, 2006, 8:16 AM, Posted by Steve Downs

Project HealthDesign, the first RWJF national program to come out the Pioneer portfolio, had its proposal deadline in September and the response was tremendous. We launched Project HealthDesign as a way to stimulate more innovation in the area of personal health records. We used the tag line “Rethinking the Power and Potential of Personal Health Records” because we–and Patti Brennan, the national program director for Project HealthDesign–thought that the real power of a PHR lay not in assembling and presenting a person’s medical record, but in helping people transform that information into action. In other words, it’s not the record itself, but what you do with the record that matters. The basic construct of the program is a common platform–representing a person’s record and some common technical services like authentication – that is then layered with a variety of personal health applications (think Mac OS widgets as an example) that would help people manage certain health tasks.

A hypothetical example we often offer is an application that uses a person’s current medication list (provided by a common PHR platform) to crawl the web and find the lowest price sources for those meds (or there generics). That’s a simple example, but the point is that these applications should be diverse and numerous–reflecting the diversity of people’s health challenges. Having a common platform (or platforms) with stand application programming interfaces (APIs) would enable developers to create innovative applications without having to build a whole PHR infrastructure.  In Project HealthDesign, we’ll fund 8-10 organizations to work with end users to design and then build prototypes of a variety of personal health applications.  The grantees will also work together to develop requirements for a common platform that would support their designs.

So...getting back to the proposal deadline, we got...

169 proposals from a great variety of organizations–from major health provider networks, patient groups, academic medical centers, small businesses, EMR vendors, research organizations and think tanks.  The applications run the gamut from supports for common conditions like diabetes and obesity to challenges like medication management and analyzing family histories to assistance for parents raising children with special needs. They reflect the diversity of health needs people have and, collectively, make the case that personal health records need to be, um, personalized. Obviously the competition will be stiff and it will be tough to select only 8-10. We’ll announce the winners at the 2006 Connecting Americans to Their Health Care conference in D.C. on December 7.  Should be a great conference (okay we’re a sponsor, so I’m biased). Check it out.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.