Chicago – Like a glacier moving downhill, the move toward electronic health records (EHRs), while seemingly slow, is ultimately inexorable. That’s the upshot of a new study by London-based market analyst Datamonitor, which posits that EHRs will be the cornerstone of healthcare technology, critical to the modernization of today’s healthcare systems.

The report, “Opportunities in the Electronic Health Record Market,” predicts North American and European spending on EHRs in 2007 totaled over $4.4 billion, and expects the overall global EHR market to grow to almost $13 billion by 2012–a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.8%.

However, Christine Chang, healthcare technology analyst with Datamonitor and author of the study notes that obstacles still exist to widespread adoption. Foremost among the obstacles is cost. In the cash-strapped and fast-paced health care environment, technologies such as EHRs, which require time and resources to implement, are difficult to adopt, she notes, adding that even EHRs that claim to be free have costs.

Furthermore, the sheer number of vendors offering products in the EHR space and the inherent fragmentation within the healthcare community does not make EHR adoption any easier, she says. Providers also are hesitant to change the way they have been practicing medicine and skeptical of available technologies, especially in regard to patient privacy and physician autonomy.

“Although the cost, complexity and change providers face will hinder the adoption of EHRs, EHRs will become a ‘must-have’ for healthcare organizations,” Chang says. “They will help transform the healthcare industry from today’s reactive, frenetic environment to one that is more proactive, informed and leverages planned workflows. While the implementation process is liable to take years, there is no turning back.”

The move toward electronic records is evident in Hartford, Conn., where health insurance provider Aetna Inc. has made its proprietary personal health record available to all Aetna Individual Advantage members in the 24 states (and Washington, D.C.) where Aetna Advantage Plans are currently sold.

The company says its personal health record provides a secure, online location–Aetna Navigator, Aetna’s password-protected member Web site–for the personal health information of members. The complete personal health record—or portions of it–can be printed and shared directly with physicians and other health care professionals. In addition, members can print wallet-sized emergency information cards that contains important information such as name, date of birth, blood type, emergency contacts, current allergies and medications, as well as physician and insurance information.

"We’re giving our members access to their personal health information in a variety of ways to make it most convenient for them, whether that is online, something they can share during a regularly scheduled medical appointment, or during a medical emergency," says Laurie Brubaker, COO for Aetna’s Consumer Segment.

When a member first uses his or her personal health record, it already contains information that Aetna has previously processed for the member, such as insurance claims, doctor visits and prescribed medications that a member is taking. In addition, members can add personal information about their health history, such as a specific disease or condition in the family, or whether they take over-the-counter medications.

"By encouraging members to add their personal information, we are actively engaging our members in thinking about all elements of their health care," Brubaker says. "We are committed to helping our members achieve their optimal health, and the Personal Health Record is an important resource that can help them re ch these goals."

Aetna’s personal health record is the first to use its CareEngine system, which is a proprietary technology platform developed by ActiveHealth Management, a branded, stand-alone business of Aetna. CareEngine continuously scans an individual’s health data and claims information against highly respected sources of medical literature. It also alerts members and doctors about possible urgent situations and opportunities to improve care.

Sources: Datamonitor, Aetna

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