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New program to advance personal health care through technology

Patricia Flatley Brennan

Patricia Flatley Brennan (large image)

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has issued a call for proposals for a new program to stimulate innovations in personal health information technology.

The project is directed by Patricia Flatley Brennan, professor of nursing and industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The national initiative, called “Project HealthDesign: Rethinking the Power and Potential of Personal Health Records,” encourages technology pioneers to design the next generation of personal health record (PHR) systems in ways that empower patients to better manage their health and health care.

The $3.5 million program will support up to 10 multidisciplinary teams in a collaborative effort to design and test innovative health record applications that can be built upon a common technology platform. All teams will work closely with patients and consumers throughout the process to ensure that their designs align with end users' needs and preferences.

Upon completing the design phase of the program, teams will test prototype applications with patient populations.

“It's critical that people have access to their medical information, but they also need tools that help them manage and apply that information to improve their health and health care,” says Stephen Downs, RWJF senior program officer and deputy director of its Health Group.

The program is part of RWJF's Pioneer Portfolio, which supports innovative projects that can lead to fundamental breakthroughs in the health and health care of all Americans.

“PHRs to date tend to help patients collaborate with physicians and hospitals, by obtaining prescription renewals or reviewing laboratory results, for example,” says Brennan. “Most people find PHRs to be effective and helpful. The technical challenge is in creating a suite of PHRs that work together to help people achieve all of their health goals in an integrated fashion.”

“Project HealthDesign will help create PHR systems that provide a range of flexible tools that can best support individuals' needs and preferences,” Brennan adds. “These tools may remind a patient to take medications or schedule appointments, or even help people with asthma incorporate weather and air quality updates into their daily health decisions.”

Experts say the advancement of computer-based personal health records has already empowered many people to become better health care consumers and more informed patients, but the potential of personal health record systems to improve patient management of specific diseases needs further exploration.

In this two-phased initiative, design teams will first participate in a six-month structured process to create user-centered personal health applications that address specific health challenges faced by individuals and families. In the 12-month prototype phase, these personal health applications will then be tested in target populations.

The Project HealthDesign call for proposals is available online at Proposals are due September 19, 2006. Potential applicants should contact the program at or visit for more information.