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The Medical Banking Project plans to announce a program later this year that will use banks’ Web portals to deliver personal health care information online.

Advocates of online PHRs (personal health records) believe making such information more accessible will make for better-informed and healthier patients. Various groups are already investing in technology to use information in PHRs to guide people to healthier lifestyles or just make sure they get appropriate preventive care.

Banks offer an advantage that is more immediately practical. “The banking industry isn’t going to be developing new PHR technology, but what they do have the ability to do is to distribute that technology to 55 million online banking customers,” said John Casillas, head of the Medical Banking Project.

His initiative would seek to link up with regional health care organizations, who will meet to discuss details at a conference scheduled for March.

Insurance plans cooperate to provide online health info. Click here to read more.

Casillas said that his organization was already in discussions with AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans), which is heading up one large personal health record initiative.

One of the largest challenges of PHR efforts is getting people to sign up, said Casillas, but people who have already signed up for their online banking services might be ready to get access to their health information in a few clicks. “It’s a matter of putting the information where there is already a lot of investment in getting people online,” he said.

Privacy advocates are worried that PHR efforts are springing up too fast, without enough regulation to protect privacy or control how information is used. Casillas acknowledged that some additional policies might be required but said that HIPAA and additional banking regulations already provide a good framework.

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Still, Casillas said that he did not expect his initiative to morph into a large-scale nationwide project. “Our program is not to get self-sustaining, but just to demonstrate,” he said. “Once we’re done with the pilot programs, we’re done.”

The next step would be for banks and RHIOs to set up self-sustaining projects based on the demonstration projects. Although Casillas did not directly speculate on how such projects could be funded, he did cite a 2005 Accenture study that found that just over half of surveyed respondent would spend $60 a year to have their medical information available online.

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