09/05/2012 03:29 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Personal Health Records -- The New Game of Telephone

We all know the kids game of telephone, when one person whispers a word in someone's ear, and so on and so on down the line. The original word whispered (say "red") is generally very far from the word that is blurted out at the end of the line (say "banana"). It's funny to see how one word can be misunderstood until the word no longer resembles what was actually said. I know my kids love the game.

But when the game of telephone is played with your health records, it is another matter altogether. Let's take my case: four different doctors in three different institutions around two different conditions and a partridge in the pear tree. None of my health records is the same. One has a mistake with regard to my prescriptions. Another is silent about a surgical procedure I've had. None of the records has all of my X-rays and other tests.

We all have as many personal health records as we do physicians. This only becomes more complicated when you consider the inclusion of multiple institutions or multiple conditions. Language is rarely standardized between institutions and, more often than not, the software packages that hold the information are incompatible between organizations. And when multiple conditions are involved, that usually involves a whole new set of physicians and a whole new set of records. So the number of health records we have grows to be the product of the number of physicians times the number of facilities times the number of conditions. In my case that would be 24 personal health records.

I know there are many tools developed and being developed out there to create my master personal health record. Whether my record is on a disc, on a card, in the cloud or on some yet-undefined system, the goal is to get our records online. My physician is being incented to use electronic medical records to maintain my personal health record. And as we move forward, more and more resources are being allocated to getting records online.

But what about organizing our existing personal health records? What system is going to read my 24 personal health records and make sense of them? It seems that many of the technology solutions are aimed at simply getting the records online than they are at seamlessly integrating our existing records. And how would a technology system know that part of record eight was different from part of record 16? Or how we can differentiate between one nuanced diagnosis from another nuanced diagnosis? Or finally, how we can tell mistakes from truth when there is so much information involved?

In short, when you have multiple personal health records do you have any personal health record at all? And if the technologies can't sift through the information to make it consistent, then how are we going to reconcile my 24 different personal health records? Either I have to start from scratch or I'll have to hire someone to help me make sense of all of the information in my records. The only thing I know for sure is that I don't want my record to read banana when it really meant to read red. That would be dangerous.

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