Personal Choice Personal Choice Internally Created

As the nation continues debating how to transform health care, many ideas for improving patient care have surfaced. One solution is letting patients access their medical history via personal health records (PHRs), which are repositories of individual health information culled from multiple sources.

Most PHRs and electronic medical records (EMRs) are managed and controlled by medical personnel, rather than the patient, and are based on industry standards. So data can be transferred easily from one system to another. While EMRs are just beginning to permeate doctors' offices, PHRs are picking up steam with insurers and other health providers, which offer PHRs to the populations they serve. Anyone can sign up with a provider for a PHR -- some insurers offer them, as do Google and Microsoft. The federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has launched several pilots involving PHRs. The programs are aimed at tech-savvy baby boomers who are rapidly approaching retirement age, and many of whom will enroll in Medicare. PHRs may prove useful for boomers trying to stay healthy through their golden years.

"CMS is interested in people getting the best health care they can get," said Elizabeth Holland, a health insurance specialist with CMS, "and this is really a step toward empowering people and helping them make the best decisions about their own health care."

Years in the Making

According to Holland, CMS began exploring the use of PHRs in 2005 when it released a request for information. "The overwhelming response was that CMS should provide data to PHRs, but we should not build our own PHR," Holland said. "So we proceeded with that in mind."

That led to a pilot in which the agency worked with its claims processor for South Carolina to populate PHRs provided by HealthTrio with Medicare data. The pilot showed it was feasible to transfer Medicare claims data to a PHR.

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