For-profit Medem Inc. was founded by the American Medical Association and other medical societies as a way to help clinicians communicate with patients online. The PHR (personal health record) service is a natural extension of that, Fotsch said. "Instead of filling it out in a waiting room, where you dont have your information, you do it from your home at your own convenience, and you only have to do it once."
After creating their record, patients can print out cards with instructions allowing emergency workers to access relevant information online instead of by quizzing distraught family members.
Otherwise, Fotsch said, "ER [emergency room] people are flying blind, and family members are asked to answer questions they are ill-prepared for."
But critics question whether patients will keep accurate records and whether physicians will view them as reliable, and they note that third-party Web sites are not bound by the same privacy regulations that apply to health care providers and payers.
Unlike similar services offered by other companies, patients will pay nothing for Medems service, called iHealthRecord. Instead, physicians will pay about $25 a month.
Patients can go to www.ihealthrecord.org to see if their physician offers the service and can start entering information, or they can do so through their physicians Web sites. Patients can give doctors or family members access to their information by sharing their passwords.
Fotsch said the cost to physicians is much less than that of EMR (electronic medical record) systems, and that it could pay for itself with a single online consultation.
Patients who have created their own PHRs would likely push doctors to use more health information systems. "Thats one of the real attractive features of the iHealthRecords. Youll know for sure if the doctor has an EMR," he said. Brown and Toland, an independent provider association in San Francisco, said it would offer the service.
Though Fotsch said physicians would offer the service as a market differentiator, he also said patients would have complete control over their records and could easily share them with new doctors. But the iHealthRecord would not be able to store all of the kinds of data that might be part of an EMR.