Analysis predicts 6 percent PHR market growth through 2015

Consumer adoption of personal health records (PHRs) is steadily growing, according to new analysis from Frost & Sullivan.

The research firm attributes the growth to greater awareness of the value of PHRs, increased use of electronic health records (EHRs) by physicians and hospitals and new mobile technology tools that enhance PHR usability and functionality.

Frost & Sullivan's research indicates that PHR software generated revenues of $312.2 million in 2010 and estimates that revenues will reach $414.8 million in 2015, representing a compound annual growth rate of 5.8 percent.

The research notes that consumer engagement with health IT is increasing through payers, providers and employers, and access to personal health information is required for one to be an "informed participant." Theoretically, this is where PHRs come into play as essential technology tools. But uptake of PHRs has been slow and the market for these technology tools has not taken off as expected, causing many once-enthusiastic participants, including big-name technology vendors, to abandon the space. In 2010, it was estimated that only around 7 percent of the U.S. population was using a PHR -- usually for keeping track of a chronic health condition.

"Many PHRs have yet to define a specific and desirable customer benefit," said Frost & Sullivan Analyst Jessica Ryan Ohlin. "But the prevailing attitude of 'I'm not sick, why do I need a PHR?' is going to disappear over the next five years as consumers take on increasing personal and financial responsibilities for managing their own healthcare."  Thus, she said, as the U.S. health system undergoes significant structural and payment reform, "public sentiment is shifting away from the traditional passive approach toward recognition of the need to be more proactive about future care and more engaged at the actual point of care."

While Ohlin writes that the current PHR market is "wrought with stubborn and seemingly intractable problems including a perpetually disinterested mass of mainstream customers, persistent concerns around privacy and security and a disproportionate amount of resources being thrown at unproven products and unsustainable technologies," she believes that, ultimately, PHRs will be "inevitable tools in the future of healthcare delivery."

Ohlin sees a network effect at play in driving the adoption of PHRs. "With greater certainty in the market and some high-profile winners, increased investment will lead to new PHR innovations that may ultimately feed new business opportunities," she said.

Frost & Sullivan predicts that consumers will be increasingly drawn to PHRs and related tools as a natural progression of the widespread use of IT (especially mobile Internet devices), structural changes in healthcare including new collaborative care models, the growing adoption of EHRs among providers and advancements in technology that will enable data to be automatically gathered, consolidated and fed into PHR platforms, enabling greater efficiency and ease of use.