Medibank cancels $7.5m healthbook personal health record

Health insurer Medibank has announced it is closing its personal health record healthbook, which was developed with $7.5 million in government funding as one of the Wave 2 sites for the implementation of the PCEHR.

healthbook was one of nine projects announced in March 2011 for the second wave of funding for the Labor government's PCEHR implementation, receiving $7.5 million out of a total pool of $55m. Designed internally by Medibank with systems integration advice from IBM, healthbook aimed to test whether consumer-entered health data for patients with chronic disease could integrate with the national system.

Launched in May 2012, it initially targeted a group of 16,000 Medibank members who were on a Better Health program, which provides a range of services such as nurse-led telephone counselling for people with chronic illnesses. Medibank intended to allow customers to access the record through their smartphone and to upload medical data from devices such as blood glucose and blood pressure monitors.

It included a medical profile detailing current conditions and medications, nurse-entered notes and a series of health goals. While it never connected to the PCEHR, it was built with that in mind.

In August 2012, Medibank CIO Terry Snyders told Pulse+IT that initial uptake was “pleasing”, with eight per cent of targeted customers agreeing to take part in its three months of operation. However, according to notices placed by Medibank in newspapers this week, while it received “strong take up” initially, interest subsequently waned.

A Medibank spokesperson told Pulse+IT that only 1500 people were currently healthbook users, and only a small percentage of those were active users.

“[A]fter considerable evaluation, it has become clear that the need for this service is not as highly sought after as originally expected,” Medibank said in its newspaper notice. “As such, healthbook will close on 21 March 2014.”

Medibank said it was contacting customers personally to inform them of the closure, and would provide copies of the record to the customer or to their healthcare provider. The Medibank spokesperson said participants will receive a copy in the post.

"Healthbook users with chronic disease management needs will continue to receive support through Medibank’s chronic disease management programs," the spokesperson said.

Healthbook was the first of its kind in Australia, where personal health records have failed to take off. Microsoft has resisted launching its otherwise successful HealthVault platform here due to our small population, although Australians can sign up to the UK version using a web proxy or VPN.

Insurer-provided PHRs are far more popular in the US, where Kaiser Permanente's My Health Manager is well supported and the US Department of Veterans Affairs allows its beneficiaries to download their data into PHRs through its Blue Button initiative.

The UK attempted a similar program in 2007 through the NHS-provided HealthSpace, which failed to gain any serious uptake.

The largest failure of PHRs was Google Health, which closed in June 2011. However, there are strong rumours that Apple is planning to release the next version of its iPhone operating system with in-built health and fitness tracking capabilities, as well as developing a new wearable device dubbed iWatch.

Apple intelligence news site 9to5mac, which has an enviable reputation for getting it right when it comes to Apple rumours, reported last month that Apple was planning to develop a new application that would enable users not only to track fitness measurements but vital signs such as blood pressure and glucose levels.

Coincidentally, the application has been codenamed Healthbook, 9to5mac reports. healthbook is a trademark registered to Medibank in Australia.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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