Kristen Luong Dec 07, 2023

The popularity of PHRs in the United States and European countries

With the power of technology, the healthcare landscape has been witnessing an unprecedented shift towards personalized and proactive services. Personal Health Records (PHRs), which allow individuals to access and manage their own health information digitally, have become a game-changer in the healthcare industry. But is it true that this model is prevalent in first-world countries like the United States and developed European countries? and why have PHRs gained in popularity in recent years? Let’s delve into a fascinating journey as we quest for the answers.


The United States - the pioneer of PHRs development


The 1990s saw the first emergence of some private online PHR-like systems but these systems were still in their infancy. They had several shortcomings, like they were not user-friendly and charged fees, making them fail to become popular in the U.S. 

The interest in PHRs first increased in late 2006 when giant United States’ corporations like Microsoft, Google, Revolution Health and WebMD introduced PHRs. 


Why did PHRs suddenly attract the interest of investors, healthcare providers?


The rising popularity of PHRs can be attributed to the potential for data interoperability. In the early 2000s, researchers had foreseen the future where every industry, including Healthcare, is linked with cutting-edge technology. 


At that time, Google’s PHRs system integrated with many information sources, such as commercial laboratories, pharmaceutical suppliers, and devices. Meanwhile, Microsoft connected with typical Healthcare service providers like the Cleveland Clinic. 


Factors affecting the popularity of PHRs


The popularity of PHRs can vary from country to country depending on several factors specific to each region. Some typical factors are:


Healthcare system infrastructure: Countries with well-established healthcare systems and advanced digital health infrastructure are more likely to have a higher adoption of PHRs. This includes having standardized electronic health record (EHR) systems, interoperability standards, and strong data security measures. 



Government policies and regulations: The support and promotion of PHRs through government policies, incentives, and regulations can significantly influence their popularity. Countries that have implemented policies encouraging the use of PHRs may see higher adoption rates. 


Awareness and education: The level of awareness and education about PHRs among the general population can affect their popularity. PHRs will become popular tools for fostering patient-centered care if those countries inform citizens about the benefits and usage of PHRs as well as encourage citizens to take an active role in managing their health.


The popularity of PHRs in the U.S. and European countries


The adoption rates of PHRs in the United States and European countries follow very different trends. 


The U.S

There are no surveys or research on the current statistics of people using PHRs. But the previous surveys suggested that about 80% of Americans reported they were very interested in using PHRs.


Although most Americans believed that PHRs were greatly beneficial for them, by 2009, the popularity of PHRs in the U.S was disappointingly low. Just nearly 7.3 million adults used an online PHR, equivalent to just 2.4% of the population of this country, according to Marc Donner, director of engineering for Google Health.  


In 2010, the proportion of Americans using PHRs increased to 7%, although much higher registration rates occurred in integrated systems with robust and well-established PHRs, such as the Veterans Health Administration and Kaiser Permanente. 


The popularity of PHRs gradually grew throughout the years. Many researchers in 2016-2018 predicted that by 2020, about 75% of the number of adults in the U.S would use PHRs. 


The Europe 

According to the Review of National-Level Personal Health Records in Advanced Countries published in 2021, the popularity of PHRs varied dramatically between European countries. The surveys focused on the popularity of PHRs in some of the most technologically advanced countries in Europe like the U.K, Sweden and Finland. 


While the PHRs adoption in the United Kingdom and Sweden hadn’t seen a positive trend, the number of people using PHRs in Finland reached a striking number.


The United Kingdom developed the National Health Service (NHS) on December 31, 2018. But the popularity of PHRs was very low as the app had been installed just more than 200,000 times as of January 2020 meanwhile the U.K’s population was 67 million. 



The government of Sweden hadn’t developed a PHR system yet but created a PAEHR (patient accessible electronic health records. It was an EHR but had a similar feature of a PHR). Surprisingly, by August 2019, the system of this high-tech nation just had more than 3 million users, about more than 30% of the population.


The popularity of PHRs in Finland seemed to be impressively high. The Finnish government made Kanta, a national platform producing digital services for Healthcare providers only. But in 2017, they developed a new function called Kanta PHR. Although there were no updated statistics on the users of Kanta PHR, the general statistics of Kanta were high: 


3.5 million users in 2022 (about 64% of the population)

100% of public healthcare used the system

70% of private healthcare used the system

100% of pharmacies used the system


How PHRs greatly benefit healthcare systems in Western countries


- Save billions of pounds for healthcare providers: With PHRs, individuals can easily access and share their health information with multiple healthcare providers. This helps hospitals and medical facilities reduce billions spent on duplicated tests or procedures. PHRs can also streamline the billing and claims process by providing accurate and comprehensive health information. This reduces the risks of billing errors, improves reimbursement efficiency, and minimizes administrative costs for healthcare providers. By 2020, the PHRs system of The Care Information Exchange was estimated to save about £1,504,252 for all 4 hospitals in 3 years.


- Save enormous amounts of time: PHRs can integrate with electronic prescribing systems, allowing doctors to refill prescriptions online. Nurses can also save time during face-to-face pre-operative assessments, as patients use PHRs to provide some information beforehand. PHRs even provide features like appointment scheduling and reminders. This remarkably boosts efficiency of the healthcare providers and medical facilities as they do not have to waste time manually doing tenuous, repetitive tasks.


Read more: Essential Functions of PHR (Personal Health Record) system


- Foster seamless communication between practitioners and patients: With PHRs, patients can timely announce doctors whenever any health problems or changes occur; meanwhile, Healthcare providers and medical facilities can monitor their patients' treatment remotely, avoiding omitting any significant information. In some urgent cases when patients are unable to come to the hospitals in a short time, physicians and surgeons can even do video conferencing to instruct patients.  



Challenges to increase the popularity of PHRs in the United States and European countries


  • Privacy concerns: The report, "Consumers and Health Information Technology: A National Survey," found that 75% of non-PHR users were concerned over privacy concerns. Many respondents were afraid that their medical information could be shared without their consent or even used against them by insurers or employers.


  • Insufficient data: The fear of privacy violation regarding PHRs has made people hesitant to share their medical information, this creates a huge obstacle for PHR adoption as they do not have enough patient data to input the PHRs systems. As a result, the lack of information leads to inaccurate healthcare outcomes.


  • Asynchronous interoperability: Achieving interoperability among various EHR systems, hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers is crucial to provide a comprehensive view of patients health information. However, integrating PHRs with existing healthcare systems while still ensuring seamless data exchange is a complex task. 




While the popularity of Personal Health Records (PHRs) is increasing steadily over time in the United States and some countries in Europe, the adoption rates of this system in other European nations are slower due to several factors. Although PHRs implementation has encountered some barriers, it is certain that this system will be more widespread and become an essential part of the healthcare system.