Maintaining Personal Health and Medical Records

Personal health records—also known as personal medical records—are records kept by a patient to make his or her navigation through the American healthcare system more efficient.

Unlike electronic medical records (EMRs) kept by some healthcare providers, healthcare facilities and insurance companies, the contents of a PHR are determined by the patient and stored in the manner he or she wishes. They may be stored on a local computer, a thumb drive (small personal hard drive), or through an online service.

Generally, patients begin by typing the basics into their records—blood type, family history, etc. If they have kept paper copies of records obtained from their healthcare providers, then they may scan those records and save them as PDF files.

doctor and pregnant patient at laptop
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What Records Should Be Stored in a PHR?

As you develop a PHR, you may choose to keep only emergency information for easy retrieval, or you may decide to keep a complete record of all your healthcare provider visits, prescriptions, hospitalizations, medical tests, and insurance information. Some do this so that family members have a more detailed record, should it be needed.

There are three forms of PHR technologies from which you might choose to record your health information.

Local Computer Hard Drive

There are software programs designed to help you keep your own health records. Some are free, others have a price tag. If you don't opt for one of these programs, you may simply choose to use a word processor and scanner to generate files on your own. Once you have developed your records, you can transfer the files to a thumb drive to take with you when you travel, or for medical personnel to use in an emergency.

One caution: Consider leaving out some specifics about your health insurance, including your group or individual identification numbers. Also, leave out information that could identify you too closely such as your contact information or your employer. Should you lose a thumb drive that houses this information, you run the risk of medical identity theft.

Online Subscription Services

These services provide an application to make inputting information easy. Generally, you will pay a monthly or annual fee for their use, depending on which services you want to use or how many accounts you need for family members. A big benefit of these services is that you can access them from anywhere.

Whether you get sick at home or get hurt on vacation, you can provide the healthcare provider helping you with your log-in information. She will be able to quickly retrieve the information she needs to treat you.

"Free" Online PHR Services

These services have the same benefits as those listed above, with one major exception. "Free" is a misnomer. While these services may seem secure and private, they are not. You will find advertisements, and your information may be sold—along with information about other patients—to companies that wish to obtain data about patients with medical problems like yours.

With any of the online services, be sure to read the long, legal privacy and security information they provide. Most insist you click on the "accept" button before you are able to use them. You may not care if someone accesses your personal health information.

If privacy or security is important to you, however, then you won't want to participate with these online programs. The same caution against including all of your health insurance information applies here, too. You want to try your best to avoid medical identity theft.

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.