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The PHR Revolution

For years, doctors and patients have struggled to overcome the limits of health care technology, geography and time. But things are quickly changing and in a way that will dramatically improve the lives of patients and the quality of health care their attending physicians are able to provide.

The medical community has long been looking at the Internet as a way to simplify and accelerate the way they work, communicate and learn. With the rise of online social networking sites, the demand for immediate real-time information sharing and the affordability of broadband and network access, doctors in different states, countries and even continents can rapidly exchange patient medical records, diagnose and collaborate on prescribed treatments in ways never possible before until now. Net giants like Google and Microsoft are setting up online portals that enable patients to create their own personal health record (PHR) of information. Vemics' iMedicor, a free HIPAA compliant personal health information exchange, recently launched, allowing physicians an easy way to collaborate and share medical records in a worry-free online environment. However, this is just the beginning. This medical records revolution will fundamentally change how physicians practice medicine and the quality of care they will be able to provide their patients.

A few hypothetical everyday situations easily come to mind-for instance, when you are traveling and you encounter a serious medical problem. Time is an issue and you don't have access to your normal attending physician, who is familiar with your specific health care situation (i.e. allergies, medical history and test results). This situation can apply to every emergency medical situation. Other common situations involve the time it takes for patients to receive test results or a second opinion on a diagnosis. For parents, it can be an excruciating wait for their child's results, especially in cases of a serious illness. Moreover, the wait time can undermine the patient-physician relationship and magnify the emotional toll of an already difficult situation, especially for those with chronic diseases who need to track and manage their diseases. The advent of online medical record access and exchanges can change this and guard against worst case scenarios that can mean the difference between life and death.

Each of these exchanges-whether for PHR creation or for the use of health care professionals-have their own unique elements. For instance, with Microsoft's HealthVault, users can store their prescriptions, test results, notes by their physician, information and more. The site's tools also let users upload data from blood glucose monitors, sports watches and blood pressure monitors. In this way, the user can share their PHR with whomever they choose. HealthVault can be viewed at www.healthvault.com. Google's Health platform-which will directly compete with Microsoft's Healthvault-is expected out in early 2008 and will tap the Web giant's formidable ability to store and organize data.

Additionally, there are also sites that enable physicians to collaborate and exchange medical records, such as iMedicor. Since its launch in October, the online portal has surpassed its projected registrations to more than 10,000 physicians and growing. Some of iMedicor's features include a HIPAA compliant personal health information exchange of documents and images; an online referral and consultation community; a multi-specialty video and text based continuing medical education (CME) catalogue; a medical association section for regular interaction between associations and constituents; access to health care-specific blogs and forums; a practice improvement section that offers courses and information on better practice management and more. The site also offers physicians interactive online seminars with such recent topics as Autism: The Early Warning Signs, Diagnosis, Intervention, Treatment and Management and Obstructive Airway Disease: Prevention, Treatment and Coping. iMedicor is free for physicians and can be viewed at www.imedicor.com.

There are other chat room-style portals for physicians in wide use within the industry to facilitate industry communication. However, a looming danger exists for health providers on this type of portal. Physicians can inadvertently violate HIPAA rules and subject themselves to tremendous liability. Violating HIPAA can trigger a range of fines and, in extreme cases, even imprisonment. With all the extra tools out there now for the health care community, choosing which online tools to use is more important than ever in light of patient privacy concerns, liability for doctors, for their legal counsel in advising them and health care insurers in general. For patients, it is important to ask your health care providers to make sure their medical information exchange is compliant with HIPAA and meets all the necessary privacy safeguards.

Tom Dorsett is the president of health care solutions for Vemics. He can be contacted directly by email at tdorsett@vemics.com.

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