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Military plans to implement patient-controlled electronic health records

The Military Health System plans to deploy patient-controlled personal health records by the end of the year, and could become one of the first large groups to adopt the technology.

Comment on this article in The Forum.In a blog post on the MHS Web site last week, S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said he believed the organization can offer "something like" personal health records developed by Google, Microsoft, WebMD or RevolutionHealth, a consumer-focused health care company headed by Steve Case, the founder of AOL.

"We are investigating ways to incorporate the services and features offered by these commercial vendors as a way to expedite the development of our PHR and expand its capabilities by November 2008," said Terry Jones, an MHS spokesman.

Unlike electronic health records, which are maintained by clinicians and health care organizations, personal health records are maintained and controlled by patients -- though some are designed to dovetail with clinician-controlled electronic health records.

Personal health records have been a niche market served by specialized companies such as WebMD, but that changed with Microsoft's introduction of its HealthVault personal health record in October 2007 and Google's entry into the field in February 2008.

Last month, Casscells told a meeting of the American Health Information Community, which advises the Health and Human Services Department on how to accelerate the adoption of health information technology, that MHS is working to adapt a commercial personal health record product to meet the needs of its patients -- 9.2 million active-duty and retired service personnel and their family members.

In his blog post last week, Casscells said "Lots of issues [remain], but the military may actually be the first group to adopt PHRs, and I believe we have the discipline and savvy to make it succeed."

In March, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology reported that it plans to expand its nationwide electronic health information network to include commercial personal health records.

MHS also may work with the Veterans Affairs Department to develop a common personal health record, Casscells indicated in his blog post. He said he had asked Charles Campbell, MHS' chief information officer, to work with VA to develop a common personal health record system or one that is interoperable with VA's electronic health record system.

In January 2007 VA and Defense announced plans to develop a joint inpatient electronic health record system, but at the meeting of the American Health Information Community, Casscells said, "We may have widespread personal health records before we have an implemented inpatient electronic health record."

Katherine Hahn, a spokeswoman for WebMd, said the company "is uniquely positioned to work with large entities leveraging our experience in delivering our market-leading PHR."

Katie Watson, a Google spokeswoman said, "We are open to working many government agencies, including the Military Health System, on several opportunities related to interoperability and tools for storing medical records online for consumers. However, we don't have any details to share at this time."

Microsoft and RevolutionHealth did not respond to requests for comment.

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