E-Health Records Option Extended To Families

Dossia, whose consortium members include Wal-Mart and Intel, is making it easier for employees' dependents to sign up for electronic health records.

During open-enrollment season for employee health insurance plans, employer consortium Dossia has added new functionality to the electronic personal health record that's offered to millions of workers.

The new capabilities allow employees' dependents --including spouses and children -- to also create their own lifelong personal health records.

That sounds easier than it's actually been for Dossia to offer. Complex legal, privacy and other issues that vary from state to state, as well as involve federal regulations, make it complicated to offer a one-size-fits-all solution for all users of personal e-health records, especially when it involves the creating records for family members whose ages and health concerns vary.

Non-profit consortium Dossia was launched three years ago by several large employers, including Intel and Wal-Mart, in an effort to empower workers to take better control of their health and wellness by providing them e-personal health record tools to access their health information via the web.

Other Dossia member companies include AT&T, Applied Materials, BP America, Cardinal Health, Pitney Bowes, Abraxis BioScience, Vanguard Health Systems, and sanofi-aventis.

When Dossia launched, it said it would provide member employees and their dependents the ability to create and control e-personal health records that include data from outside sources, such as lab data and claims information based on the employers' provider of health benefits, for instance.

However setting up Dossia so that employees' dependents can also easily create and manage their own e-personal health records has been more complicated than expected mostly because of federal regulations as well as complex legal issues, said Colin Evans, Dossia CEO.

For instance, the regulations and rules related to dependents under the age of 12 and over the age of 18 vary from state to state. However, even more complex is dealing with the varying rules related to dependents between the ages of 13 and 17, such as whether the dependent adolescent can block parents from accessing the teenager's health information.

"Employees have told us that they want their entire families connected" to Dossia e-personal health records, so that it's easier to keep track of kids immunization records, chronic conditions and other issues that vary among family members, said Evans.

So, Dossia has been spending "a huge amount of effort" working on legal issues while simplifying the enrollment and sign-on processes for using its personal health records, says Dossia CEO Colin Evans.

"If it takes 12 clicks to get health data, it doesn't feel right" to users, said Evans. Dossia has been focusing on simplifying disclosures, for instance, so that enrolling and using its health records aren't as cumbersome, he said.

Also, the organization has been working to include applets that appeal to users who have different health needs, such as BMI calculators for individuals trying to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

"People don't wake up saying, 'gee I wish I [could] open a personal health record,' he said."They say, 'I wish I knew whether Granny is taking her medicine,'" or the kids' vaccinations are up to date," he said.

"We're spending a lot of time on user interfaces and applets," he said. "Diabetics, pregnant women, and patients with ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease] all have very different health needs," he said.

Of Dossia member companies, so far, Wal-Mart has achieved the largest rollout of the e-personal health records, said Evans. Other member companies, including AT&T, Cardinal Health, Vanguard Health and Pitney Bowes are in various stages of rolling out Dossa personal health records related to their open enrollment programs for 2010 benefits.

To date, Dossia personal health record users number "in the tens of thousands" and are predominantly Wal-Mart employees, he said.

For Further Reading:

Why Your Next IT Job Will Be In Healthcare

Top iPhone Apps For Health Pros, Patients

Top iPhone Healthcare Apps

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on e-health and the federal stimulus package. Download the report here (registration required).

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