Is Clayton Christensen right? On April 8, 2009, the Disruptive Harvard Professor was interviewed in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge saying that Personal Electronic Health Records (PEHRs) can, “help us manage our own health care” and be “transformative in lots of unexpected ways.”

By his definition in The Innovator’s Prescription, a disruptive innovation transforms a product or service that historically has been very complicated and expensive into something that is affordable and simple to use.

Health care us certainly complex and expensive, particularly as it’s delivered in the U.S. Can PEHRs help move American health care towards affordability and simplicity?

Christensen offers the example of PEHRs being used by health care workers in African for educating women on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. These programs are shown to be both clinically effective, as well as cost-effective, so they are clearly demonstrating their value. They have also been pretty simple to use and have been accepted into the day-to-live ‘cultural workflow’ of citizens and health workers.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Thinking about the health workflow and public health issues facing health citizens in sub-Saharan Africa, the introduction of mobile health technologies leap-frogged what ‘wasn’t’ there. We see this happening with the adoption of wireless and cellular phone technologies in all parts of the developing world; who needs to invest in expensive landlines when you can jump ahead to the wireless world?

There’s a funny problem when it comes to health technologies in the developed world: they tend to add to existing techs, and don’t quickly substitute for what’s already embedded in daily workflows. Regarding PEHRs, Americans haven’t quickly adopted them en masse although there is a rationale to use them, particularly for chronically ill people managing data streams, such as diabetics managing health on a 24×7 basis. There’s a stasis among health consumers; it’s not only hard for clinicians to change workflow, it’s also difficult for people to alter their personal health workflows.

So it’s the simplicity part of Christensen’s equation that will be the critical success factor that motivates mainstream health citizens to adopt PEHRs. Once data can be grabbed by mobile apps from many sources — from lab and telemetry values to one’s daily food consumption — and integrate them into an engaging, friendly front-end — the heavy lifting will be alleviated and elegant simplicity will drive adoption. That will be a disruption that can improve individual health, optimize public health, move markets, and reduce health costs. Until then, citizens’ adoption (and disruption) with PEHRs will be limited to those very driven individuals at the vanguard of personal health engagement.

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