Personal health records and patient portals

Personal health records and patient portals are powerful tools for managing your health.

Courtesy of the Mayo Clinic

If you’re like most people, you have a number of health concerns and may visit multiple doctors and pharmacies. Keeping track of it all can be a challenge. With a personal health record, you can gather — and manage — all that information in one easily accessible location.

What is a personal health records

A personal health record is simply a collection of information about your health. If you have a shot record or a folder of medical papers, you already have a basic personal health record.

And you’ve probably encountered the big drawback of paper records: You rarely have them with you when you need them.

Electronic personal health records (PHRs) remedy that problem by making your information accessible to you anytime via web-enabled devices, such as computers, smartphones and tablets.

What information goes into a PHR?

In general, your PHR needs to include anything that helps you and your doctors manage your health — starting with the basics:

  • Your doctor’s names and phone numbers
  • Allergies, including drug allergies
  • Your medications, including dosages
  • List and dates of illnesses and surgeries
  • Chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure
  • Living will or advance directives
  • Family history
  • Immunization history

You can also add information about what you’re doing to stay healthy and prevent disease, such as:

  • Home blood pressure readings
  • Exercise and dietary habits
  • Health goals, such as stopping smoking or losing weight

PHRs, EHRs and patient portals

PHRs are not the same as electronic health records (EHRs), also called electronic medical records (EMRs), which are owned and maintained by doctors’ offices, hospitals or health insurance plans.

EHRs typically contain the same basic information you would put in a PHR, such as your date of birth, medication list and drug allergies. But EHRs contain more extensive information because they’re used by health care providers to store visit notes, test results and much more.

A PHR that is tied to an EHR is called a patient portal. In some but not all cases you can add information, such as home blood pressure readings, to your record via a patient portal. If that’s the case, you may not want to create a separate, standalone PHR.

However, you may want to consider having at least some basic information on hand in case of emergency, including advance directives, which outline your decisions about health care, such as whether to use life-support machines.

You could use an app such as the Health app for iPhones, which includes Medical ID, which makes critical information available via the lock screen for use by first responders in an emergency. Medical ID can display medical conditions, allergies, medications, blood type and emergency contacts. You can also use it to indicate if you’re registered to be organ donor.

Similar apps are available for other smartphones as well. Or you could go low tech and keep a card in your wallet or wear a medical alert bracelet.

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