Will UnitedHealth’s New Personal Health Record Make An Impact?

Posted on October 26, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Though the idea of a personal health record was a hot thing for a while, it didn’t become the fixture of the healthcare market that pundits had predicted. In fact, as many readers will recall, even deep pockets like Google and Microsoft couldn’t get their users to sign on to their PHRs en masse.

One of the main reasons the PHR model didn’t take is that people simply didn’t want to use them. In fact, at least at the time, the PHR was almost entirely a solution in search of a problem. After all, if a health data power user and patient advocate like myself didn’t want one, what hope did PHR backers have of interesting your average Joe Blow in aggregating their health data online?

Over time, however, the personal health data landscape has changed, with patient records becoming a bit more portable. While consumers still aren’t beating down the doors to get their own PHR, those who are interested in pulling together their medical records electronically have better access to their history.

Not only that, wearables makers like Apple and Fitbit are sweetening the pot, primarily by helping people pull self-generated data into their health record. Arguably, patient-generated data may not be as valuable as traditional records just yet, but consumers are likely to find it more interesting than the jargon-laden text found in provider records.

Given recent developments like these, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that UnitedHealth Group is picking up the PHR torch. According to an article in MedCity News, the giant payer plans to launch what sounds like an updated PHR platform next year to its 50 million benefited plan members.

Apparently, on an earnings call last week UnitedHealth CEO Dave Wichmann said that the company will launch a “fully integrated and fully portable individual health record” in 2019. Notably, this is not just a data repository, but rather an interactive tool that “delivers personalized next-best health actions to people and their caregivers.”

The new health record will be based on UnitedHealth’s Rally health and wellness platform, which the insurer picked up when it acquired Audax Health in 2014. The platform, which has 20 million registered users, works to influence members to perform healthy behaviors in exchange for the incentive dollars,

Over time, Wichmann said, UHG intends to build Rally into a platform which collects and distributes “deeply personalized” health information to individual members, MedCity reported. The idea behind this effort is to highlight gaps in care and help patients assess the care that they get.  Wichmann told earnings call listeners that the platform data will be packaged and presented to clinicians in a form similar to that used by existing EHRs.

UHG’s plans here are certainly worth keeping an eye on over the next year or two. I have no doubt that the nation’s largest commercial payer has some idea of how to format data and make it digestible by systems like Cerner and Epic.

But while patients have become a bit more familiar with the benefits of having their health data on hand, we’re not exactly seeing consumers stampede the providers demanding their own health record either, and I’m far from convinced that this effort will win new converts.

My skepticism comes partly from first-hand experience. As a recent UnitedHealth beneficiary, I’ve used the Rally application, and I didn’t find it all that motivating. Honestly, I doubt any online platform will make much of an impact on patient health on its own, as the reasons for many health issues are multifactorial and can’t be resolved by handing one of us a few Rally bucks.

Personal gripes aside, though, the bigger question remains whether consumers think they’ll get something valuable out of using the new UHG tool. As always, you can never count on them coming just because you built it.