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Doc sees future of PHRs going way of online banking


By Joseph Conn
Posted: February 5, 2009 - 12:01 am ET
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Physician Roni Zeiger, product manager for Google Health, during a session on personal health records at the 25th Towards an Electronic Patient Record show in Paul Springs, Calif., didn’t exactly make light of privacy concerns raised about PHRs, but the internist suggested they will fade away as more people get used to storing and sharing their personal health information online.

According to Zeiger, a public opinion survey taken in 1998 found that three-fourths of the survey participants indicated they were afraid of doing financial transactions online. Last year, he said, three-fourths of households had engaged in such online transactions.

“That transition didn’t happen because there was some fantastic piece of privacy policy,” Zeiger said. “It was because the utility was so high.”

That same utility will follow with PHRs, once they reach widespread adoption, Zeiger suggested. “This isn’t just about the user getting their information so they can access it. It’s so they can share it, for example, with their caregiver or their physician.”

Already, the number of online searchers of healthcare information is substantial and growing, Zeiger said. There are 220 million adults in the U.S., of which 178 million are online, and 115 million go online for health-related reasons, up from 63 million in 2002. Zeiger said there are at least 500 support groups online.

Google Health was officially launched last May, although the platform debuted during the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society meeting in February 2008. Zeiger said that the company remains committed to maintaining Google Health as a free service to users and also to its no-advertising policy on the platform. The bet is, according Zeiger, Google Health users will tend to use Google search even more, and that will drive ad revenue for the company.

Zeiger said the company has learned a lot so far in developing Google Health, but the data being loaded into PHRs is “nowhere near sufficient.”

“The vast majority of us wonder why we need to do this now,” Zeiger said. “Doctors are worried about workflow. I’m one of them. The main thing I worry about is, 'How do I work with this?' I don’t have an extra four or five minutes to pull up a PHR and read it in my workflow. We need to make this something that actually helps the doctor to help the patient. That said, I’m all for putting pressure on everything, including doctors, to change to make things better.

“Google has made a big bet on health,” Zeiger said. “It’s clear that this is something we’re not going to be able to figure our even with the most clever engineers in one year or even two years or three years.”

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