Last Monday, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and a medical-technology company launched unani.ca, an innovative new personal health record (PHR) system. The interface allows patients to store all of their medical information in one place, and its developers hope that it will contribute to a growing trend of patient self-management.
“The time has come for people to partake in the management of their health,” said Philippe Panzini, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Medforyou, the Montreal medical-technology company that helped develop the new website.
The free site, which is named after the Unani healing system developed in the 11th century, allows patients to list long-term health conditions, medications, upcoming appointments, and other health information in an organized web profile. Patients can then print off sections and bring them to appointments.
“We hope that it becomes commonplace for people and families to keep medical information themselves … because currently it’s all spread around in paper or folders,” Panzini said.
Reflecting its new-generation outlook, the site’s graphics are glossy and smooth. When users register, they pick one of 10 “secret images” to click on as an additional log-in ID.
The site has not received overwhelming traffic in its first week, but its creators are planning to add a number of new features to sophisticate and optimize its performance. Panzini said that before the year is over, there will be more “eye candy and flexibility.” He also hoped to have the system translated into multiple languages, in an effort to make it globally marketable.
“Our statistics show that about 75 per cent of the people hooking up are from Quebec, but there are people from everywhere else [as well],” he said.
In 2007, Medforyou approached Arthur Porter, the MUHC chief executive officer, who had been looking for a patient self-management tool. The partners began work on the project the following year.
The MUHC did not return the Tribune’s request for comment, but according to a press release, unani.ca is “the first consumer-minded personal electronic health record in the Canadian marketplace that combines the expertise of a world-class academic health centre with that of award-winning information technology developers.”
The finished product is not the only one of its kind, but rather a new variation on an existing theme. Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto has a similar plarform, and there are a number of other PHR systems that charge users.
Andrew Helmers, a second-year McGill medicine student, praised the system but said that it had certain limitations. He said that the site’s journal function, which allows users to track symptoms on a daily basis, is too general.
“I couldn’t find an easy way for a diabetic to track their blood sugar every day,” Helmers said. “They should have more templates for journals specific to patients with chronic conditions.”
Panzini said, however, that the system is deliberately simple – at least for now.
“We know that people have a hard time understanding health issues,” he said, “so we made the system look deceptively simple.”
Despite his criticisms, Helmers said that in general, the interface is a good thing.
“I would use it, just because I have trouble keeping track of those types of things,” he said.