Employee Personal Health Records Pressure Doctors To Go Digital

Doctors don't reap the financial windfall from e-records, so they've been a tough sell. Employers hope staffers with e-records will help force change.
Chronic diseases such as diabetes account for 70% of Verizon's health care costs, and giving its employees personal health records to manage their care could help them live healthier and thereby cut those costs. The telecom company has another agenda, though, one that corporate America's getting behind: to pressure doctors into going digital. If more than 100,000 Verizon employees track their health care data with online records, they're likely to push their doctors to adopt them--or move to physicians who have them. "Consumer involvement can drive change," says Donna Chiffriller, Verizon's VP of benefits.

Gattinella courts employers

Gattinella courts employers
Verizon will offer online health records from WebMD to almost 120,000 employees within a year; about 39,000 now have the option. The e-record can be filled with claims data if an employee chooses, and then set to deliver a health alert--a woman over 40 whose claims data doesn't show an annual mammogram will get prompted to make an appointment. WebMD's tools can help plan for future health care costs, something heavy on the minds of baby boomers approaching retirement. WebMD lets a patient with high blood sugar access an online glucose diary to manage the chronic disease and use a tool to estimate costs that might come 15 years down the road, which can help in savings and retirement planning, says CEO Wayne Gattinella. WebMD plans a PIN system that will let patients share their records with doctors, and it's working with electronic medical records vendor Sage and others to integrate the WebMD records with those used by health care professionals.

Verizon isn't alone in promoting online employee health records. WebMD's other business customers include IBM and Starbucks. A consortium that includes Wal-Mart and Intel is building a personal health record system called Dossia with the Omnimedix Institute, a privately funded health IT organization. Most companies that offer personal records offer employees incentives to use the system. Omnimedix CEO J.D. Kleinke thinks employer-sponsored approaches like Dossia represent the best chance to get broad use of digital health records. But they're not without problems, since even if employees can access their data after they leave their current employer, there's no sure bet they can get claims data to populate it.

The best option could be to combine such personal records with data flowing from regional health data exchanges, if more of those get up and running. If companies can turn millions of insurance-wielding employees into e-records advocates, it will put pressure on the health care industry to charge ahead.

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