Although consumers have a tremendous need for support in taking a more active role in their healthcare, many remain unaware of the potential for PHRs to help them in this area. It is clear that community, state, and national marketing and education efforts are needed to increase consumers’ awareness of the availability and value of PHRs.
PHRs must be developed with consumers’ needs in mind from the beginning, with consumers’ perspectives being incorporated into what attributes a PHR should have. A user-centered approach to PHR development will help to create PHRs that are valuable and easy to use for the consumer. Various techniques can be used to discover consumers’ needs and preferences, such as conducting field-based user-observations, using paper and electronic prototypes, preparing scenario and story boards, and holding discussion and focus groups.
Once consumers’ needs and preferences have been identified, usability guidelines and feature-by-feature testing can ensure that the PHR is designed to be as useful and easy to use as possible.
Tremendous strides have been made in improving the design and functionality of PHRs. As consumers become increasingly interested in taking charge of their health care decisions, and as the health care and health IT industries develop the ability to produce comprehensive, portable, and lifelong consumer records, the information and functionality that PHRs can provide will become increasingly valuable to consumers. Currently we do not know what the PHR of the future will look like, but it is clear that the focus of the work and the quality of research that is being done today will have significant impact on the PHRs of the near and distant future.