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Clinicians' Frequently Asked Questions

1. What information is included in a PHR? 

PHRs typically have the ability to include a health summary, risk factors such as allergies, family and social histories, routine and emergency contact details, health insurance account information, care reminders, medication history, and a list of office visits, inpatient hospital stays and outpatient hospital treatments. In addition, patients may also choose to include other important health-related information (e.g. over-the-counter medications or counseling services received).

2. Where does the information in a PHR come from?

PHRs can be populated from a variety of different sources. Some of the information will be entered by patients themselves.  Other pieces of information may be provided automatically through visits to clinicians and from the claims paid by health insurance companies. In some cases, PHRs can be pre-populated with historical and current medical and pharmacy information from multiple electronic sources and updated periodically.

3. How will the information from a PHR be used?

The information contained in a PHR is used by patients to keep track their personal health information. With the permission of the patient, clinicians have the ability to use the information in a PHR to, for example, help determine a course of treatment or coordinate care for chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

4. Where is the PHR?

PHRs most often are stored on a secure Web site that patients access with a personal login name and password.  Only the patient or a person they authorize can create or update their PHR.  PHRs saved on a Web site may be associated with or sponsored by a health insurance company; linked to a clinician, an independent commercial Web site such as WebMD® or Microsoft Health VaultTM; or provided through health information exchanges, which are secure, electronic systems — run by official local or regional organizations — that give clinicians fast access to the information they need to provide quality care.

5. Who can see the information in the PHR?

Only individuals authorized by the patient may have access to the information. These authorized individuals may be healthcare clinicians, a family member or other person(s) identified by the patient. In an emergency, the clinicians caring for them also may be able to see the personal health information contained in the PHR, should patients authorize this feature.

6. How will clinicians access the PHR?

Patients may give the clinicians a paper summary of their PHR before or at the time of their visit. Also, they may authorize secure transmission of their information to the Electronic Health Records (EHR) system used by their clinician. Patients also may authorize their clinicians or clinicians' staff to view their personal health information before or during their visit.

7. Can patients choose what PHR information clinicians see?

PHRs may afford some control over what an authorized clinician or care giver is able to view. When clinicians access a PHR, they will be able to see some or all of the healthcare information contained in it, based on patient choices and the privacy options provided by the PHR system they are using. With most PHRs, patients can assign access authorizations and/or restrict access to records.

8. Can patients access the PHR if they change physicians or health insurance companies?

In general, the answer is yes, although the specifics regarding how a PHR can be moved may depend on the type of PHR and on who hosts the PHR Web site. 

9. Where can I find more information about PHRs?