On December 1, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) unveiled its www.myoptumhealth.com solution. This is an upgraded web-based service that allows consumers to create and manage their own digital health record (DHR).

It’s widely accepted that conversion of medical records to digital format could improve medical outcomes and reduce healthcare costs dramatically. One unexpected development on that road to the universal electronic medical record (EMR) has been the well-financed efforts of companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to offer digital personal health records (PHRs) to consumers via sophisticated Web sites. Now comes the major health insurer, UnitedHealth, with its DHR offering for consumers.

Like Google Health and Microsoft’s HealthVault, UnitedHealth’s myoptumhealth is free to consumers and allows them to create and manage their own digital health solution. However, unlike those two competitors, which have lined up affiliated services for its users, myoptumhealth is organized to offer consumers services provided by various UnitedHealth business entities.

Google Health and Microsoft’s HealthVault are partnering with medical providers to offer patients the ability to upload their records from provider files, and provide a host of online medical services, such as Allscripts ePrescribe, a free, Web-based prescription solution for physicians. The sites also provide consultation with medical experts; link patients with providers and related services, like TrialX, which matches patients with clinical trials; and provide a database of information on health topics.

HealthVault, which was launched in 2007, has more than 100 participating provider partners, including leaders in health information technology, such as Kaiser Permanente. Launched earlier this year, Google Health’s partner list is not yet as extensive but growing quickly, and includes medical technology leader, the Cleveland Clinic; national pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Longs Drugs; and laboratory testing giant Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (NYSE:DGX).

It is still too early to gauge whether medical laboratories and imaging providers will be willing to partner with these Web-based DHR services. Because of the importance of lab test data for any patient’s health record, Google Health, HealthVault, and myoptumhealth recognize the need to have clinical laboratories and imaging providers upload test results to patients’ digital health records and digitally sign them as evidence of authenticity. Access to lab results increases the value of DHRs to patients, enabling them to leverage the data in healthcare applications, ask their medical providers informed questions, and monitor their own health status by comparing lab tests over time.

While only time will tell, a positive indicator of consumer support is increased interest in online health information. Visits to health Websites rose 21% last year-more than four times the rate of total U.S, Internet population, according to comScore, a Reston, Virginia-based firm that measures digital usage.

Related Information:
UnitedHealth Takes On Microsoft, Google With Online Health Venture

Google Health: Is It Good For You?