There are a number of efforts currently underway to clarify the definition of a PHR. Most experts agree that PHRs consist of electronic patient health records controlled by consumers. Although there is some debate regarding whether the PHR encompasses just the underlying infrastructure or the entire system and its tools, ONC-NAHIT and other organizations are working to develop consensus on what constitutes a PHR, its system, and its functions and features.
PHRs can include many different functions, and there are a few different ways to define functionalities. Many organizations define functionality based on the HL7 PHR S-FM Model, which defines PHR functional capabilities by hierarchical categories of ‘Personal Health’, ‘Supportive’, and ‘Information Infrastructure’. Contrastingly, Johnson et al define PHR functions by six different types, such as Patient-Provider Communication.
Consumers have diverse expectations and needs for PHRs; therefore, certain data elements or functions may be more relevant to some than others. There are a number of PHR models available with particular data elements and functions associated with them. These models vary from very basic to sophisticated configurations. Current PHR models also may be designed for general population use, or tailored to support a specific consumer population, address particular health concerns or chronic conditions, or help consumers perform a particular healthcare-related activity. PHR models will continue to evolve, and it is likely that the current PHR landscape will be remarkably different in the next five to ten years.