Medicare Extends Personal Health Record Pilot

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Medicare PHR Choice offered to Arizona and Utah beneficiaries through 2010.

Medicare PHR Choice, a pilot program that provides beneficiaries with direct input of claims data into online personal health records (PHRs), will continue through December 2010 according to officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The pilot is available to people with Original Fee-for-Service Medicare who are primary residents of Utah and Arizona.

Medicare PHR Choice allows beneficiaries to choose from one of four PHR tools to maintain their health information electronically. The PHR companies--Google Health, HealthTrio, NoMoreClipboard.com, and PassportMD--offer beneficiaries a range of consumer PHR services and features so they may choose which format will best meet their needs. Enrollment in the PHR Choice pilot is free, and some vendors offer additional services for a small fee.

Noridian Administrative Services (NAS), the Medicare claims administrator for Arizona and Utah, coordinates the pilot for CMS. NAS transfers the claims data to the PHR companies, all of which meet strict compliance standards for privacy and security to protect the information transmitted and stored in the PHR records. When a beneficiary enrolls in the program and requests Medicare data, up to two years of prior Medicare claims are added into the PHR with automatic updates occurring as new claims are processed.

In addition, the Medicare PHR Choice participants are able to enter other health provider and prescription information to their online records. Depending on the specific PHR tool selected, participants may be able to authorize other data transfers, such as prescription records from a participating pharmacy. PHRs also may offer links to tools that help consumers manage their health, including wellness programs for tracking diet and exercise, information about drugs and medical devices, health education information, and applications that detect potential medication interactions.

"There are so many benefits to a web-based PHR, including coordination of up-to-date health information with family caregivers and medical providers," said David Sayen, CMS regional administrator for Region IX, which includes Arizona. "The ability to access a PHR can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation."

Physicians and family members may access the password-protected PHR with the beneficiary's permission. Medicare transfers data into the PHR files, but has no access into any of the content of the PHRs. When someone participating in the pilot decides to cancel a PHR, the PHR company deletes the entire record.

Since the pilot launched in January 2009, more than 1,000 people have enrolled and authorized the transfer of Medicare information into their PHR files. The PHR companies and Medicare staff plan to increase outreach efforts in the coming months to promote awareness of the program.

"We hope to increase participation so we can provide information to help us determine future direction for PHR efforts," Sayen said. "Certainly this is new territory for many of our older beneficiaries, but as more and more baby boomers come into Medicare, we anticipate they will be open to this approach for tracking and managing their health information. And it can be particularly useful for the disabled community, where many people are managing chronic conditions."

When the pilot ends, participants may keep their PHR files active, although Medicare would no longer provide input of claims data. "I hope we can keep the pilot going if it proves successful and expand it to beneficiaries in more states," Sayen said.

For more information on the Medicare PHR Choice pilot, visit http://www.medicare.gov/phr.

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