Why You Need a Personal Health Record (PHR)

It’s 4:00 a.m. and you wake to the telephone. It’s Mom. She’s at the hospital with your Dad, who's having chest pains. You rush to the hospital, where Mom is upset. She can’t remember important details about her husband’s health. The hospital doesn’t have a record of all the medications he’s on, or his most recent primary care visits. The clinical team is concerned about drug interactions and is asking for an up-to-date picture of his overall health.

Sadly, this scenario happens all too often. In the event of a medical crisis, details can make all the difference. But even in our digitally connected world, sometimes the information you need in an emergency just isn’t available. That’s why you need a Personal Health Record (PHR).

What is a Personal Health Record?

A PHR is a file folder or online tool that holds your medical history. It can save you from repeat and possibly unnecessary medical testing. It could even save your life by recording serious allergies or listing all your medications, thereby preventing harmful drug interactions. It can also hold important legal documents such as your power of attorney (POA) or do-not-resuscitate (DNA) order.

If you are a primary caregiver of an elderly parent or loved one, keeping all medical information in a single, accessible location will help provide valuable information to clinicians, lessening a stressful situation should an unfortunate crisis occur.

If you are older or have multiple ailments, your PHR will help you retain control over your treatment. While it won’t replace the medical records maintained by physicians, it will help improve the quality of your care. When you consider that medical errors are potentially the third leading cause of death in the United States today, you owe it to yourself to create a PHR.

Healthcare has grown increasingly complex and specialized, with multiple types of clinical experts providing care to a single patient. If you are hospitalized, you could have several physicians, nurses and other midlevel clinical providers attempting to coordinate your treatment. Typically they will track your care through an electronic medical record (EMR). But your family practice physician may not have the same electronic technology as the hospital. In fact, each provider, especially if they are external to the hospital, is likely keeping their own record of your care. The lack of interoperability between these technologies is a real and serious problem in healthcare. A PHR can help ensure communication between providers.

What are the Benefits of a Personal Health Record?

According to the HealthIT.gov website, PHRs have the following benefits:

  • Improving participation in your treatment
  • Helping coordinate multiple providers and treatments
  • Available in an emergency
  • Cutting costs by eliminating redundant tests
  • It might help prevent a medical mistake
  • Increasing communication between you and your doctors

If you consider your physicians and other healthcare providers as partners on your way to better health, then the PHR is a great resource for clinicians, family caregivers, and individuals.

What to Include in a Personal Health Record?

The contents of a PHR are specific to you and what medical treatments you have received. The typical PHR could include:

  • Your name, address and contact information
  • Contact information on your next of kin or other responsible parties
  • Copies of insurance cards
  • A list of providers involved in your care and contact information
  • Legal documents like a POA, DNR, living will, or other treatment consent forms
  • An updated list of all illnesses and operations and any medications or supplements you’ve been taking
  • Your blood type
  • An allergy alerts list
  • Family history of diseases
  • Copies of recent tests including x-rays
  • Progress notes from doctors or physician orders related to your medication, diet or treatment plans
  • Lab and pathology tests
  • Exercise and diet habits
  • Discharge summaries from prior treatment
  • Your health goals

This is only a partial listing. When you consider that one illness could include consults from your family doctor, a specialist such as a cardiologist, a surgeon, a home health nurse or a physical therapist – to name a few – your file could grow larger or even shrink over time.

Should Your PHR be Online – or Offline?

PHRs can be as simple as copies of documents in a file folder or three ring binder. Increasingly, electronic PHRs are available for free from insurance carriers, online vendors, employers or your doctor or health system. The benefit of the online tool is that they have a robust array of features that you can use to upload and store information. Some of them can link directly to a hospital EMR, making it easy to view tests like lab results all in one place. When a PHR is linked to an EMR, it is privacy protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

Another benefit for the electronic online version of the PHR is that it’s easy to access if you are traveling. Just make sure you place a card in your wallet that alerts authorities how to access your information. In today’s hectic society, staying organized is sometimes job one when it comes to healthcare. With an online PHR, you can receive appointment alerts to help you coordinate treatment. Consider how helpful this could be if you are managing healthcare for you, your family and a parent!

Some PHRs even allow for communication between you and a professional caregiver. In an electronic forum that communication can be transmitted securely and can be automatically documented and added to your PHR.

If you’re considering an electronic PHR, here are some key questions to ask:

  • How user-friendly is the system?
  • Is it safe and private?
  • Can I add external files into the system, such as lab tests?
  • How easy is it to update my information?
  • Can I set up PHRs for multiple family members?

Generally, you will need to think through the risks and benefits of the online or electronic PHR before deciding if you’ll use it. The American Health Information Management Association is a great resource for helping you choose the best online vendor.

You could also store your PHR on your home computer, downloading it periodically into a flash drive that you could keep in your purse. Keep in mind not everyone is going to be comfortable with a digital PHR, so it’s important to find the tool that works best for you and your family. Of course, the biggest downside for a paper PHR is that you probably won’t have it with you when you need it most.

Don’t Worry – Get a PHR

Taking an active role in your health, or the care of a loved one means you need to take the time to set up a PHR. The PHR can help guide medical treatments including long-term chronic conditions. It can help you take charge of a situation that may sometimes feel chaotic and out of control. It can also help you monitor the accuracy of care. When you think about it, a PHR is a great way to manage your health. Here are three resources to help get you started: