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Medicare readies pilot program to link patients, health records


WASHINGTON —Look for Medicare to begin surfing the technology-assisted patient-outreach wave early next year.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is set to launch a pilot program that will give Medicare beneficiaries in two states the chance to maintain their own personal health records. CMS announced in November it has tapped four companies to participate in the new Medicare PHR Choice Pilot in Arizona and Utah.

“This pilot program will, beginning in early 2009, offer beneficiaries with Original Medicare the opportunity to choose one of the selected PHR companies to maintain their health record information electronically,” the agency noted.

The four selected companies are Google Health, HealthTrio, and PassportMD. CMS said offering Medicare recipients a range of options will give them “a range of product choices from ones that are free to ones that have ‘concierge’ service.” It also will give those patients “a diverse set of connections to healthcare providers, pharmacies and other sources of health information,” CMS stated.

Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CMS, called the pilot a major step forward for Medicare.

“It will provide information and tools that will empower consumers to manage their health better,” Leavitt said. “Importantly, the pilot provides beneficiaries with a choice of products to meet their individual needs.”

The aim, according to CMS, is to give patients more control over their health and the healthcare services available to them by providing them with a link to their own health records. Noting that “a PHR is a record of health information that is under the control of the consumer or patient,” the agency pledged to provide health information to beneficiaries in the pilot program with useful information to help them make more informed decisions. “Sometimes [the PHR] only contains data entered by the individual or his or her provider, but it can also include information from a health plan, as is the case in this pilot, where Medicare will provide health information from its claims database,” CMS noted.

“A PHR, which is controlled by the consumer, is different than an electronic health record, which is owned by and under the control of the physician,” the agency explained. “A PHR may only contain data entered by the consumer or his or her healthcare provider.”

Beneficiaries who select one of the participating PHR vendors can add other personal health information if they choose, according to the pilot plan. Medicare will also transfer up to two years of the beneficiary’s claims data into the individual’s PHR, if the beneficiary requests it. Depending on which linkup they choose, beneficiaries may also be able to authorize links to other personal electronic information, such as pharmacy data, CMS added.

The personal health records offered by the four providers also may offer links to tools to help consumers manage their health, according to the agency, such as wellness programs for tracking diet and exercise, information about drugs and medical devices, health education information, and applications to detect potential medication interactions. “Beneficiaries can elect to allow family members, healthcare providers or whomever they choose to have access to their PHR,” CMS added. “This can allow caregivers to help manage loved ones’ health or be critical to a physician…in an emergency.”

Each company has privacy and security standards to protect the information transmitted and stored, an agency spokesperson said.

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