Medem offers personal health record service

The company, which is owned by medical associations, says it will enable all Americans to create their own online records free of charge.

By Tyler Chin — Posted June 6, 2005

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On May 9, Medem Inc. rolled out a service allowing patients to create and share a free, Web-based personal health record with their physician and with hospital emergency departments.

Called iHealthRecord, the service Medem unveiled at a news conference in Washington, D.C., gives physicians access to information about patient care occurring outside their office that they don't currently have access to. Those data include patients' current medical conditions, medications, past surgeries, allergies and end-of-life directives, said Ed Fotsch, MD, CEO of Medem, which is partly owned by the American Medical Association. "The big challenge in health care is data access," he said. "[Now] you fly blind. You don't know the [patients'] medications, you don't know their conditions."

AMA Chair J. James Rohack, MD, agreed at the news conference that PHRs will help physicians and improve patient care and safety.

"In the long run, systems like this will save physicians and patients both time and money through increased efficiencies and stronger communication networks," Dr. Rohack said. Still, he cautioned that while patient health records will help "reduce medical errors and save lives" they aren't a substitute for in-office interactions. "Of course, nothing will replace the power of a patient and a physician sitting down and talking about personal health goals," Dr. Rohack said.

A PHR ideally contains all the health information about a patient since birth but shouldn't be confused with an electronic medical record. The PHR is created, controlled and owned by patients who decide who can view their record. The EMR is owned and controlled by physicians or hospitals. PHRs -- a major component of President Bush's plan to implement a national health information network -- are seen as a tool for improving care by getting patients more actively engaged in their own care.

Dr. Fotsch acknowledged the possibility some patients might enter false or misleading information into their PHR, but said that he thought very few would because there really wasn't much patients could gain by entering "misinformation into [their] record."

Under its iHealthRecord service, Medem will automatically send users patient education programs related to their medications, conditions and procedures as well as notification of drug recalls, Dr. Fotsch said. Medem is providing the service at no cost to patients, nor will it charge extra to the physicians, medical groups and hospitals who already are part of Medem's network.

Physicians, groups and hospitals not a part of Medem who want the service would be charged a $25 monthly fee per doctor, which includes all of Medem's services, such as Web-page building. The fee is discounted if a physician is a member of a Medem investor, such as the AMA.

Patients can create their PHR through Web sites of doctors who are part of Medem's physician network or by accessing iHealthRecord's Web site (link).

Medem is the latest for-profit company to offer a service enabling patients to create a PHR product that can be stored on a Web site or in portable devices such as CD-ROMs. Most of those companies, including WebMD Corp., FollowMe and CapMed, charge users a fee for the service. A growing number of health systems also are giving patients free online access to their medical records.

Medem said one vendor of electronic medical records -- Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. -- has agreed to integrate iHealthRecord into its EMR and is in talks with two other unidentified vendors to do the same.

Chicago-based Allscripts, which in 2004 acquired a minority ownership stake in Medem, holds an option and a promissory note that if exercised will give it control of 50.4% of Medem's voting rights.

Some press conference participants expressed the hope that integration of iHealthRecord into EMR systems represents "a good first step" toward enabling different systems to talk to each other.

"The real day that we can celebrate will be the day that the medical health record integrates with the more diffuse electronic medical record whether you're in a hospital, a physician's office or for that matter across the ocean traveling and need access to more complete information," said Nancy Dickey, MD, president of Texas A&M University Health Science Center. Dr. Dickey is editor-in-chief of Medem and a past president of the AMA.

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