The Personal Health Record – It’s Growing in Importance to Everyone


Healthcare is undergoing rapid, fundamental changes. Increasing complexity, cost containment and pending legislation are forcing patients to play new roles in healthcare’s delivery and management. This requires knowledge, skills and a Personal Health Record (PHR) that consolidates, complements and summarizes a lifetime of information. PHRs enable informed decisions as they provide patient perspectives, emergency data, convenient reminders and a foundation for enhancements. Although they require a commitment, after having one, they would be hard to get along without.

You may think that you don’t need a personal health record… that it is a waste of your time.

This could prove true for anyone healthier and more fortunate than everyone else. However, a personal health record (PHR) is like insurance. In a medical emergency, they can contain information to save a life by answering questions and enabling prompt, timely treatment. Other times, they help to avoid duplication, fix mistakes and more. PHRs serve as reminders even for those with good memories. As healthcare changes and people become empowered to manage their own care or need help from others especially later in life, having a PHR will likely become an even more important management tool. Collecting information and setting up a record is easiest when done as soon as possible, a little at a time.

Doesn’t a PHR duplicate records that doctors, hospitals, labs and pharmacies already have?

Healthcare providers do have pieces of the puzzle, but over 80 percent of records have yet to become digitized and accessible via the Internet. Providers lack information that only patients know; no one has a complete, comprehensive view that is all in one place. When information is needed, it often takes excessive amounts of time to find and retrieve data from different sources. We do not expect a PHR to contain every minute detail that providers collect. Instead, PHRs provide overviews with highlights about the “when,” “what,” “how,” “where,” and “why” associated with significant conditions, problems and treatments. This gives providers a quick update without spending too much of their precious time. Supporting details can be referenced and saved separately or obtained from original sources if they are needed and still available. However, don’t always depend on others. We have experience with doctors’ and hospitals’ records being lost and destroyed or only retained for a limited period of time. This is especially true when there are retirements and business closings or patients change their providers. Some day you may be the only source for something important.

I have too many other things on my mind right now. I will probably start a PHR when I find the time.

Overload and procrastination will always be problems. Consider the things that get your higher priorities. Are they all really that important? When done a little at a time, starting and maintaining a PHR becomes a habit that becomes faster and easier. When used in conjunction with Internet knowledge bases, considerable time savings can be realized over waiting in phone queues to get answers to billing and medical questions. Sharing a record with providers can avoid costly, time consuming errors and focus attention on top concerns.

I am not computer savvy. I don’t know how to get started.

Not a concern. There are many people willing to help. Just ask around. Who knows? You might introduce them to something that would help them, too. For example, it is a good opportunity to spend family time with sons, daughters, nieces and nephews who have grown up with these things.

Database products are dull and boring. They are designed for businesses.

Home computers aren’t just for fun and entertainment. PHRs are designed to save time and improve lives. Fear of the unknown is common. Remember, no pain, no gain. The first step is getting started.

I am too old to reconstruct my complete medical history.

You don’t need to. Obviously, this is best for babies, but starting at any age will create important reminders going forward, especially to help caregivers that you may need later on. Do the best you can; then fill in blanks as information becomes available.

I am waiting for a product that blends advantages of mobile and desktop applications.

For years, people have waited and missed out on benefits from one thing or another. Consider any technology provider. They all listen to their customers and make enhancements on a regular basis. Expect that to happen with PHRs, too. Right now any data can be carried around even on a flash drive.

OK, how do I create my PHR?

You can find PHR software for your PC; some are free and some involve a fee. There are also free on-line services from Google, Microsoft, insurance companies and drug store chains. You should look for a program which is secure, easy to use, and complete. It has been said that there is no free lunch. In any event, there are tradeoffs regardless which PHR selection is made. Aside from concerns about privacy and protection, some people prefer not to give anyone any more information about themselves than they already have. An application on their computer implies more direct control. Others prefer web applications that they can access wherever they go, although data can always be saved on a portable device. One caution concerns switching providers if a free PHR service is included; it may become necessary to re-enter data. It can also become distracting to view ads and other functions when trying to concentrate on a primary task.

The Bottom Line: Don’t let excuses and inertia get in your way.

Life is too short to manage care, resolve problems and improve effectiveness and efficiency without a PHR. We learned this the hard way. With continuing changes, having a PHR will become even more important. Look into them; pick the one that best meets your needs; and get started. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.


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