Model for personal health records released

Insurance groups move toward long-awaited patient tool

December 13, 2006 (IDG News Service) — Two large health insurance trade groups based in the U.S. have released a model for personal health records, a portable, Web-based tool that includes a customer’s insurance claims, immunization records, medication records and other health information.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, whose members provide health insurance to about two thirds of U.S. residents, unveiled the personal health record model Wednesday.

The two groups saw the importance of working together on the project, said Susan Pisano, vice president of communications for AHIP. “This is really an effort that cries out for collaboration,” she said.

President George Bush has pushed for electronic health records to be available to all U.S. residents by 2014. Backers of such records say they will improve the efficiency of the U.S. health-care system and cut down on errors such as drug interaction problems.

Personal health records, or PHRs, “may be one of our most important contributions to helping improve health care,” Ronald Williams chairman, chief executive and president of insurer Aetna Inc., said in a statement.

PHRs are similar to other electronic health records, although they include less specific treatment information. Electronic health records typically are used by health care providers to store and manage detailed clinical information.

Patients will be able to enter information into their PHRs, in addition to information from pharmacies, laboratories and medical providers, the groups said.

The model released Wednesday includes definitions of data elements that should be included in PHRs, such as risk factors, family history, health care facilities and medications taken. The model also includes standards for the PHRs to be portable between insurers and providers, and rules about when insurers can share the information.

Insurers can send the information to a new insurer only after the patient gives consent and has enrolled in the new insurance plan, Pisano said. Those tight sharing rules were designed to address concerns about the PHRs used by insurance underwriters, she said.

The PHR model also set 2008 as the deadline for insurers to incorporate the data elements and adopt the portability standards, she added.

The groups said the U.S. is still “many years” away from a fully interoperable health records system. But Dr. Robert Kolodner, interim national coordinator for health information technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, praised the groups’ efforts. The new model is a “step forward in the national health IT agenda,” he said in a statement.

Earlier this month, five major corporations — Applied Materials Inc., British Petroleum America Inc., Intel Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — announced plans to fund the development of a Web-based system that would allow their employees and retirees to access and maintain personal medical records. The companies said the plan could help them cut health care costs.

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