New RWJF Podcast Series Looks at the Power of Personal Health Records

Jul 25, 2008, 9:30 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

RWJF's Larry Blumenthal, a Senior Communications Officer here at the Foundation, tells us:

Ralf Beach is an unlikely poster boy. At 70-years-old, he has survived a heart attack and quadruple by-pass surgery, has chronic lung disease and insulin dependent diabetes. He is also an acknowledged hypochondriac. Yet he is a shining example of the potential for bringing patient’s medical records online in the form of personal health records (PHRs).

As part of an experiment by researchers at the University of Washington, Beach is managing his diabetes and his health online. From an island in Puget Sound, he has access to his entire medical record. He delivers his blood sugar meter readings digitally – by-passing a three-hour trip to Seattle - and communicates with his doctors’ offices electronically. He’s a happy user of his PHR.

Ralf Beach is just one example of the potential for PHRs examined in a recently launched podcast series by the Foundation.

Advocates say PHRs could dramatically improve health care delivery, decrease medical costs and make it easier for all of us to manage our health over the course of our lives. With more than 130 million Americans – nearly half of the U.S. population – living with chronic conditions, the potential is obvious. To tap that potential, RWJF has been supporting, along with the California HealthCare Foundation, Project Health Design. Project Health Design has been working with nine multidisciplinary teams that are designing PHR-driven tools and applications that put patients’ needs and priorities first.

Of course, there are some challenges to overcome before PHRs reach that potential. There are concerns that PHRs shift too much of the burden of health care onto the patient. There are technology hurdles. Currently, there is no universal language or data format for health care information. Perhaps the biggest issue is concerns over privacy.

To delve into the potential — and the potential obstacles—RWJF worked with WGBH in Boston to produce this four-part series and the first two installments are up on the Foundation website, here.  The first segment features discussions with Project HealthDesign Director Patti Brennan, Project HealthDesign grantee James Ralston of the University of Washington, David Lansky of the Markle Foundation and Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights. You’ll even hear from Ralf Beach himself.

Segment 2 looks at some PHR work already underway at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. The last two segments will be posted in the coming weeks; segment three digs into what Microsoft, Google, RevolutionHealth and others in private industry are working on. And the fourth and final segment features a roundtable discussion that wrestles with the intriguing potential of PHRs and the challenges ahead in implementing them. Please take a listen to this series and let us know what you think.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.