Thursday, July 27, 2006

RWJ Foundation to Reevaluate Potential of Personal Health Records

For over thirty years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves, because when it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today issued a call for proposals for a new program to stimulate innovations in personal health information technology. The national initiative, called Project HealthDesign: Rethinking the Power and Potential of Personal Health Records, encourages technology pioneers to design the next generation of personal health record (PHR) systems in ways that empower patients to better manage their health and health care.
The $3.5 million program will support up to 10 multidisciplinary teams in a collaborative effort to design and test innovative PHR applications that can be built upon a common technology platform.

All teams will work closely with patients and consumers throughout the process to ensure that their designs align with end users’ needs and preferences. Upon completing the design phase of the program, teams will test prototype applications with patient populations. Project HealthDesign is directed by Patricia Flatley Brennan, R.N., Ph.D., professor of Nursing and Industrial Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The program is part of RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio, which supports innovative projects that can lead to fundamental breakthroughs in the health and health care of all Americans. “It’s critical that people have access to their medical information, but they also need tools that help them manage and apply that information to improve their health and health care,” said Stephen Downs, S.M., RWJF senior program officer and deputy director of its Health Group.

“Project HealthDesign aims to spark new ideas by attracting the best and brightest technology pioneers to design a diverse set of applications that consumers can use to build on the information in their medical record. Ultimately, they should be able to choose and tailor these tools based on their specific needs to improve the way they manage their health and therefore enhance their quality of life.”

Experts say the advancement of computer-based personal health records has already empowered many people to become better health care consumers and more informed patients, but the potential of personal health record systems to improve patient management of specific diseases needs further exploration. “PHRs to date tend to help patients collaborate with physicians and hospitals, by obtaining prescription renewals or reviewing laboratory results, for example. Most people find PHRs to be effective and helpful─the technical challenge is in creating a suite of PHRs that work together to help people achieve all of their health goals in an integrated fashion,” said Dr. Brennan.

“Project HealthDesign will help create PHR systems that provide a range of flexible tools that can best support individuals’ needs and preferences. These tools may remind a patient to take medications or schedule appointments, or even help people with asthma incorporate weather and air quality updates into their daily health decisions.” In this two-phased initiative, design teams will first participate in a six-month structured process to create user-centered personal health applications that address specific health challenges faced by individuals and families.

In the 12-month prototype phase, these personal health applications will then be tested in target populations. “This initiative allows technology designers to push the envelope in thinking about what a PHR system could become, in terms of empowering patients and improving their health,” said Paul Tang, M.D., vice president and chief medical information officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in California. “This program builds on the good work that has been done so far and challenges all of us to think about the transformative potential of PHRs in the near future.” RWJF is pleased to collaborate with the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF), which contributed an additional $600,000 to Project HealthDesign.

“Well-designed PHRs can help patients to better manage their health by giving them the right information and tools—when they need it—to support their decisions,’’ said Veenu Aulakh, M.P.H., senior program officer with CHCF’s chronic disease program. “This project will help ensure that the needs of patients, rather than providers and institutions, are the primary focus of the PHR system.’’ Applicants may be either public entities or nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The program is also open to for-profit entities.