The personal health record paradox: health care professionals' perspectives and the information ecology of personal health record systems in organizational and clinical settings

J Med Internet Res. 2013 Apr 4;15(4):e70. doi: 10.2196/jmir.2443.


Background: Despite significant consumer interest and anticipated benefits, overall adoption of personal health records (PHRs) remains relatively low. Understanding the consumer perspective is necessary, but insufficient by itself. Consumer PHR use also has broad implications for health care professionals and organizational delivery systems; however, these have received less attention. An exclusive focus on the PHR as a tool for consumer empowerment does not adequately take into account the social and organizational context of health care delivery, and the reciprocal nature of patient engagement.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) using an organizationally sponsored PHR to develop insights into the interaction of technology and processes of health care delivery. The conceptual framework for the study draws on an information ecology perspective, which recognizes that a vibrant dynamic exists among technologies, people, practices, and values, accounting for both the values and norms of the participants and the practices of the local setting. The study explores the experiences and perspectives of VA health care professionals related to patient use of the My HealtheVet PHR portal and secure messaging systems.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 VA health care professionals engaged in providing direct patient care who self-reported that they had experiences with at least 1 of 4 PHR features. Interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed to identify inductive themes. Organizational documents and artifacts were reviewed and analyzed to trace the trajectory of secure messaging implementation as part of the VA Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) model.

Results: Study findings revealed a variety of factors that have facilitated or inhibited PHR adoption, use, and endorsement of patient use by health care professionals. Health care professionals' accounts and analysis of organizational documents revealed a multidimensional dynamic between the trajectory of secure messaging implementation and its impact on organizational actors and their use of technology, influencing workflow, practices, and the flow of information. In effect, secure messaging was the missing element of complex information ecology and its implementation acted as a catalyst for change. Secure messaging was found to have important consequences for access, communication, patient self-report, and patient/provider relationships.

Conclusions: Study findings have direct implications for the development and implementation of PHR systems to ensure adequate training and support for health care professionals, alignment with clinical workflow, and features that enable information sharing and communication. Study findings highlight the importance of clinician endorsement and engagement, and the need to further examine both intended and unintended consequences of use. This research provides an integral step toward better understanding the social and organizational context and impact of PHR and secure messaging use in clinical practice settings.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Health Personnel*
  • Health Records, Personal*
  • Humans
  • Patient Participation
  • Telemedicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs