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Aetna Launches Real-Time Electronic Health Records

Carrier-based electronic health record provides health alerts and recommendations on a real-time basis.

In a paper-oriented world, medical records have been managed and stored by healthcare providers. But Hartford-based Aetna's ($22.5 billion in 2005 revenue) PHR (Personal Health Record), due to go into pilot in early 2007, boasts value-added features that the health insurance carrier says present consumers and their caregivers with significant advantages over provider-side electronic health records (EHRs), which suffer from that segment of the healthcare universe's insularity and lack of scale.

Built on the CareEngine technology platform developed by Aetna subsidiary ActiveHealth Management (New York), PHR gives members online access to personal health information, including personalized messages and alerts, and detailed health history, according to Aetna. PHR is designed to be an improvement on more-basic EHRs, "where there is information or data that [consumers] enter themselves and can then transport it electronically," according to Troy Brennan, chief medical officer, Aetna. "What our PHR is meant to do is turn the data into real information and make it real time, using information drawn from all the various points of contact we have."

Those points of contact include physicians' offices, laboratories and prescriptions, and the members themselves, who are able to enter information such as health conditions that run in the family or the fact that they take over-the-counter medications. According to Aetna, CareEngine constantly scans the individual's health data and claims information against selected sources of medical literature and then generates alerts to both members and their physicians about possible urgent situations and opportunities to improve care. "It's a dynamic system for analyzing a patient's medical care while it's going on," Brennan comments.

Sharing Information

Another drawback to provider-based EHR models is that information has been held in somewhat insular fashion within large provider groups, says Brennan, and most small practices do not even use EHRs. "You have a sort of feudal situation where information is held in a variety of places but doesn't cross borders," he says. "The thing about our PHR is we have all of the information necessary to the people who are insured by us, and we integrate across all providers."

Brennan states that the objective of the PHR is to improve the quality of care in the ambulatory setting in order to improve overall patient safety and provide more-cost-effective care. By applying evidence-based guidelines and promoting a proactive approach to health on the part of both patients and their physicians, PHR will help to minimize the incidence of medical errors, he argues. "Also, we'll probably be able to offer [plan sponsors] lower price points by avoiding low-quality care and errors that occur in the ambulatory setting," Brennan adds. --Anthony O'Donnell

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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