Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Personal health records: take control of your healthcare information

On behalf of the AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association), I recently gave a presentation at Doylestown Hospital focused on the Personal Health Record (PHR).

When it comes to organizing and keeping track of your own personal health information, there is no better way than by maintaining a PHR. And as the Program Manager of Peirce's healthcare programs, I thought it was important to share the highlights of my presentation here on the blog.

What exactly is a Personal Health Record, and why is it so important?
The Personal Health Record, otherwise known as a PHR, is a collection of important information about your health or the health of someone you're caring for that you actively maintain and update. It is different than a regular health record, which is information about your health compiled and maintained by each of your healthcare providers.

Think of all the medical professionals you or your family see -- primary care physicians, OB/GYN, dentist, orthodontist, physical therapist, eye doctors, specialists, and dermatologists, just to name a few. The information contained in a PHR will come from all of those sources, but it is maintained by YOU. It can help you plan and keep track of any care or treatment you receive, while keeping you up to date and educated so that you are better able to discuss your health with your doctors.

Why keep your own PHR:

  • Track appointments, vaccinations, and other services
  • Improve the quality of care you receive
  • Provide timely information when receiving emergency care and ensure access to vital health information
  • Reduce costs by eliminating duplicate tests

Research shows that improved health starts with you. When consumers actively participate in their own care, the outcomes are better. A PHR gives you ownership over your healthcare and the opportunity to provide accurate information to new caregivers; record your progress towards specific health-related goals; and refer to physician instructions, prescriptions, allergies, and insurance claims.

Getting Started
Gathering all of your personal health information in one place can be a valuable tool for documenting your health and communicating with healthcare providers. Individuals can create their own PHR, or may be offered one by a variety of sources, including healthcare providers, insurers, employers, or commercial suppliers.

Contact your doctors' offices and health information management (HIM) or medical records staff for help, and determine how you want to maintain your PHR. Various approaches include saving it to a computer disk, a USB drive, using online services, or starting a paper file folder.

To build your PHR, you need to access your health records. Ask your healthcare providers for an "authorization for the release of information" form (see sample form at Complete the form and return to the facility as directed (most facilities charge for copies).

You've collected your health records and personal health information from all of your doctors. So what should be included in a PHR? In short, your PHR should capture a comprehensive view of anything that impacts your health.

  • Basic personal information: name and birthday; emergency contacts; contact information for your physicians, dentists, specialists; health insurance information; living wills, advance directives, medical power of attorney.
  • Anything pertaining to your medical history: dates of significant illness and surgical procedures; current medications and dosages; immunizations and dates received; allergies or sensitivities to drugs, materials or foods; important events and hereditary conditions in your family history; opinions of specialists; important test results; eye and dental records; correspondence between you and your provider; permission forms. is a tool that makes it easy to start and maintain your Personal Health Record. Don't hesitate to visit the site to explore your options and learn more about PHRs. It includes a litany of tools and resources, including free PHR forms, a step-by-step guide to creating a PHR and info your PHR should include, as well as valuable information about your privacy rights.

Privacy and Security
Each PHR supplier has different policies and practices regarding how they may use data they store for the individual. While your healthcare providers create and maintain a record of your health information, the content belongs to YOU. It's important to understand where this information goes, who has access to it, and what your rights are.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides federal protections for personal health information and gives patients certain rights. For example, as a patient, you have the right to access, inspect, and copy health information, as well as the right to request corrections or changes. There are many common privacy myths, so do your research, and know your privacy rights.

Caregivers and the PHR
On the other hand, if you are a caregiver for someone, don't assume you automatically have rights to that person's information even if you are an immediate family member. Even dependent children under the age of 18 have special rights in certain circumstances. The person you are caring for should submit written authorization to his or her doctors and healthcare professionals. Check out for sample forms and additional instructions when it comes to health information, power of attorney, advance directives, and living wills.

Healthcare can be stressful, but when you create and use a PHR, you can be confident that important health information specific to you is always available to the people who need it most. Maintaining your own personal health record is one of the best ways to have constant access to your health information throughout the course of your lifetime.