If you’re like most people, your personal health is very complex. In addition to your personal and family health history, you probably have many healthcare providers--doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, medical labs and other professionals involved in your care.
And, since our fragmented healthcare system does not provide for a centralized database to store health information and coordinate care, that responsibility falls on you. That’s why maintaining a Personal Health Record (PHR) is so important. As the repository of your health history, it includes anything that helps you and your health care providers manage your health — starting with the basics:
- The name and phone number of your primary care doctor as well as any specialist(s) you see
- Allergies, including drug allergies
- Your medications, including dosages
- Chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- Major surgeries, with dates
- Results of screening tests
- Cholesterol level and blood pressure
- Health goals, such as stopping smoking or losing weight
- Living will or advance directives
You can assemble this information in paper form using a simple three-ring binder, or better yet, consider an electronic PHR that can offer additional features and benefits.
Electronic personal health record systems make your personal health record accessible to you anytime via a web-enabled device, such as your computer, phone or tablet. This can be a lifesaver, literally. In an emergency you can quickly give emergency personnel vital information, such as a condition you're being treated for, medications you take, drug allergies, and how to contact your family doctor.
But electronic PHRs can do much more:
- Track and assess your health. Record and track your progress toward your health goals, such as lowering your cholesterol level.
- Make the most of doctor visits. Be ready with questions for your doctor and information you want to share, such as blood pressure readings since your last visit.
- Manage your health between visits. Upload and analyze data from home-monitoring devices such as a blood pressure cuff. And remind yourself of your doctor's instructions from your last appointment.
- Get organized. Track appointments, vaccinations, and preventive or screening services, such as mammograms.
One example of a web-based PHR is Mayo Clinic Health Manager, which is powered by Microsoft HealthVault. There are many others available and you’ll want to evaluate all the options and find one that meets your needs. You may want to consider these questions:
- Is the system easy for me to use?
- Can I enter all the information I want to track?
- How will my information be kept private?
- Will information be added to my record from outside sources, such as insurance or doctors' offices? How and what will be added?
- Can I correct or delete information in my record?
- Can I share information with my doctor and other caregivers?
- Can I upload data from home-monitoring devices, such as a peak flow meter or blood pressure cuff?
- What will it cost? Are there any special fees?
- Will it help me manage my health by providing information and advice?
- Can I create an account for my whole family and manage information for my family members?
A common concern surrounding web-based personal health records is privacy and security. Reputable systems follow industry best practices, such as using high-level encryption, making their privacy policies public and submitting to monitoring by independent organizations. Also, the federal government is working to strengthen rules governing the security of health information held by personal health record systems.
Building Your Records
It will take some time to collect and enter all your health information into your PHR. Plus, you have to keep your record current by updating it each time you see a doctor, fill a prescription, have a test or go to the hospital. But the peace-of-mind in knowing that your health care team has critical access to your health information is worth the time and effort.
For a list of PHR systems and templates (paper, software and web-based) visit MyPHR.com.