Making personal health records more usable

January 5, 2012

Although personal health records are now securely accessible online to a large and growing number of individuals, little research has been conducted on opinions about their ease of use.

A new study recruited patients into a human-computer interaction laboratory to determine the user experience for several popular functions of the Department of Veterans Affairs' My HealtheVet, the most widely disseminated record system in the United States. The study appears in a supplement to the December 2011 issue of the .

Gaining insight into facilitators and barriers to adoption of MyHealtheVet, the most pervasive example of patient-centered technology currently in use, will provide guidance for the design and redesign of next-generation systems.

"Understanding how first-time users interact with their will enable us to design and implement future-generation systems that will serve the needs of patients and those with whom they wish to share , including doctors and other trusted parties. Ultimately it will help us, as physicians, provide better care for our patients," said Regenstrief Institute investigator David A. Haggstrom, M.D., a research scientist with the Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice, Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development Service in Indianapolis. He is an assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

The researchers studied four functional areas of MyHealtheVet: registration and log-in; prescription refills; tracking of self-reported health information such as colonoscopy test results and physical activity diary entries; and searches for health information about specific topics such as .

Once into the secure Web-based system, users found the prescription refill function to perform better than expected. More than 20 million refills have been ordered online through MyHealtheVet since 2005. Some users were concerned about the system displaying the names of their specific drugs, a possible issue if using a public computer or sharing space in the home or office.

Patients indicated that they thought it important that information they uploaded into their personal health record, such as blood sugar or blood pressure levels over time, be downloadable as graphs that they could print and bring to a future doctor's visit.

"I believe our novel, interdisciplinary-focused study yielded findings that will inform the future redesign and implementation of the VA personal health record system. Our study offered straightforward steps to tailor functions to the individual preferences of the veterans," said Regenstrief Institute Investigator Neale Chumbler, Ph.D., a research scientist with the Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice, Department of , Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development Service in Indianapolis. He is professor and chairman of the Department of Sociology and director of the Institute for Research on Social Issues in the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Dr. Chumbler is principal investigator on the VA grant that supported the research published in "Lessons Learned From Usability Testing of a Personal Health Record." The VA played no role in the study design, analysis or interpretation of data in this study.

Patients in the future will expect to access their personal health information through Web portals tethered or linked to hospital systems or HMOs, or other entities where they receive their care, the study authors note. Overall, users in this study sought aspects of personal that were "adding value" to their interaction with their VA care providers.

Explore further: Patient empowerment and system transformation to improve cancer care

Related Stories

Patient empowerment and system transformation to improve cancer care

December 14, 2011
Physicians can use medical records to track the quality of cancer care and determine whether their patients are receiving the right treatments at the right time. Yet the patient is the only one who ultimately can evaluate ...

Journal supplement presents strategies for introducing health care delivery innovation

December 8, 2011
The health care system in the United States faces numerous challenges: how to bring innovation from the laboratory to the bedside, how to ensure more equitable use of medical services and, in a time of increasing financial ...

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.