Personal Health Records (PHRs) are the focus of widespread interest as a tool for improving consumers’ ability to manage their health and health care interactions in a variety of settings. There exists tremendous diversity in the functions offered by PHRs and there is no universal definition of what constitutes a PHR. One definition as proposed by Markle states that, “ A PHR is an electronic application through which consumers can access, manage and share their health information, and that of others for whom they are authorized, in a private, secure, and confidential environment.”
The vision for and potential of this tool have not crystallized into a solid foundation of understanding about what technical and functional attributes make PHRs easy, attractive, and worthwhile for consumers to use. While PHRs have existed for nearly a decade, consumers have not rushed to start using this new technology and the literature indicates a relatively low level of adoption. Even as the PHR market evolves, many questions remain about what characteristics are most important to ensure their usability and utility; what standards and methods should be used to develop them; and how PHR adoption and integration into consumers’ overall health care experience can be supported.
There is no shortage of commercially available PHR applications-the website of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) offers links to 89 PHR products. These PHRs can vary widely in their characteristics. For instance, PHR applications may differ in the nature of information they contain, features and functions offered, sources of information, locations where information is stored, technical approaches to security, and designation of control over who has access to them.
The concept of PHRs and PHR systems continues to evolve. Additionally the National Alliance for Health Information technology (NAHIT), funded by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) is actively working on a PHR definition at the time of this report.