In recent years, the laboratory industry has debated how to best meet the demand from some consumers to order laboratory tests and receive results without the involvement of their physician. However, direct access testing (DAT) never gained much momentum. Now comes a trend likely to have a greater impact: the Personal Health Record (PHR).

In an age where the Internet is a secure way to capture information and paper medical records are slowly being converted to electronic ones, more individuals are taking over active management of their personal health information. Enter the Personal Health Record or PHR. This will be a key element in the complete patient medical record and is part of national healthcare IT policy. The Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology (ONC) set as Goal 3 of it strategic framework “to personalize care through the adoption of PHRs.”

Lab managers and pathologists may be surprised to learn that there are already two types of PHRs currently in use: One type is the standalone PHR. This is a PHR created by individuals or by one institution to be used by patients and their families. They are useful for getting consolidated information, but standalone PHRs only work when patients are diligent in keeping records up-to-date. Integrated PHRs with EMR are currently tied directly to one institution and hospital system. This integration allows for helpful services such as appointment scheduling, physician messaging, and prescription refill capabilities.

Because an individual’s PHR is controlled and stored by an individual hospital or clinic at this point, the usefulness of the information is not fully recognized. EMRs are becoming the norm, but, as Dark Daily has reported in the past, adoption of EHRs by physicians and hospitals is slow and falls significantly behind national goals. The obvious goal for the future is to fully integrate PHRs and EMRs not only in one institution, but across institutions in a city, and, eventually, nationwide so that a person’s medical history is safely and accurately stored so that it can follow the person around his or her whole life through.

The emergence of PHRs affects clinical laboratories because lab data is a major component of a person’s permanent health record. Once test results, medications, doctor visits, etc are stored on a single electronic record, it will be easier for all parties involved to make more accurate medical diagnoses. The cost of implementation is great, but a well-developed system will save a significant amount of time and lead to reduced error in the long run. Dark Daily observes that forward-looking laboratories and pathology groups have an opportunity to develop a strategy that supports PHRs. Going forward, that strategy can help the laboratory create greater loyalty with those patients interested in maintaining PHRs.