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Gartner Says Government IT Executives Should Investigate the Impact of Personal Health Records and Health Information Exchange Programs


Cloud-Based PHRs Offer Many Benefits to Consumers and Policymakers

STAMFORD, Conn., July 2008 — The use of consumer Web-based personal health records (PHRs) is a key step toward allowing people to better maintain control over their health records, according to Gartner, Inc. However, the potential high rewards of this approach are matched by a need to ensure that public policy goals are not lost.

PHRs , such as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault, are free and controlled by the consumer and could achieve a high degree of interoperability with clinical systems operated by healthcare providers and other third parties. Microsoft recently announced a pilot project with Kaiser Permanente to enable data transfers between consumers’ medical records and Microsoft’s HealthVault online health site.

These publicly available applications are built on important characteristics of cloud computing - they are enormously scalable resources that offer services directly to end users and to other IT products through an application program interface (API). They have the potential to achieve several important benefits:

-They could provide a lifetime consumer health record that is free to consumers and healthcare payers because the vendors have very low costs through their cloud-computing facilities and the ability to monetize their PHRs by drawing consumers to their other online products.

- They have the potential to scale up to cover the dramatic expansion in healthcare data driven by increased use of diagnostic imaging, genomics and proteomics.

- They offer Internet-savvy approaches to the two most vexing issues in sharing electronic information in many jurisdictions: consumer authorization and consumer identification.

- Their cloud-computing approach, offering data access as a software service, can help to create a new market of consumer-oriented healthcare applications, enabling better consumer lifestyle choices and more active consumer participation in choosing a course of treatment for serious health problems.

- The cloud-computing approach is synergistic with the underlying philosophy of these products, which is to engage consumers in managing their own data. This consumer engagement is another reason that better consumer choices could stem from their use.

“It is very early in the life of these products and there are numerous obstacles that the vendors will have to overcome to achieve the benefits,” said Wes Rishel, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “The availability of these cloud-based approaches can disrupt health information-sharing initiatives and policies that some jurisdictions have in place by providing PHRs that better leverage vendor and global healthcare provider partnerships.”

Gartner defines cloud computing as a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided “as a service” using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.

Gartner recommends that policymakers prepare now to deal with issues pertaining to consumer confidentiality, competition with government programs, disenfranchisement of disadvantaged populations and policies on the secondary use of consumer health data.

“PHRs can impact government IT organizations and executives by creating the need for informed participation in policy initiatives and by impacting beliefs about whether some initiatives should be governmentally operated,” said Mr. Rishel. “For almost all jurisdictions, preventing the entry of PHRs is not a viable approach. Delay is not a long-term strategy, but a limited amount of delay may provide time to ensure good confidentiality and craft an approach that is synergistic with government programs.”

Additional information on personal health records is available in the report “The Cloud-Based Personal Health Record.” The report is available on Gartner’s Web site at

Gartner analysts will further discuss cloud computing trends at the Gartner Web Innovation Summit: Profiting from Web 2.0, SaaS and Cloud Computing taking place September 15-17 in Los Angeles. The event is focused on the next generation of web technologies, including Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing and will cover future trends and innovations, best practices, vendor and product selections, tutorials, and tactical decision frameworks. For complete event details, please visit the Gartner Web Innovation Summit Web site is


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