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Clinicians’ Quick Reference Guide to Personal Health Records

The changing healthcare environment includes significant opportunities for improving care by providing patients with increased access to and management of their health information and the health information of loved ones they care for.  One example of this consumer empowerment is the increasing use of personal health records. This guide answers some of the questions you may have about this technology and the role it plays in improving the quality of healthcare for your patients.   

The Personal Health Record

A personal health record, or "PHR," is an electronic tool your patients can use to store and manage their health and medical information. Generally Web-based, a PHR may include information about health and medication history, the family's medical history and other pertinent information, such as where they live, emergency contact information, allergies and travel destinations that may be subject to health precautions.

The Purpose of a PHR

The PHR is a tool for patients to better manage their care and support more effective communication with their physicians and other healthcare professionals (referred to here collectively as "clinicians"). It is important for clinicians to know details about previous medical conditions or treatments in order to offer the best possible care. A Web-based PHR can help your patients keep a more complete, up-to-date record of dates of care, specific treatments, tests and medications. If they choose, patients may be able to print or electronically share information from their PHR with their clinicians so they have a more complete picture of medical conditions, medications and previous care. With better information, you and your patients can make more informed decisions.

Benefits of a PHR


  • PHRs can provide the patient a detailed record of their health history without having to remember or keep paper records of such information as immunization dates, injury and illness dates or treatments they have received.
  • Should they choose to, the information in their PHR can be shared with clinicians so they can easily see what types of treatments the patient has undergone and what medications have been prescribed. 
  • With the increasing use of electronic record-keeping systems in clinical settings, PHRs that can connect to hospital or medical office information systems may simplify the patient registration process.


  • PHRs may include or link to educational resources and tools such as wellness programs and health risk assessments.
  • PHRs may have features to help patients track chronic illnesses, diet, exercise and other everyday health behaviors.

Access to life-saving information 

  • PHRs may help clinicians identify potentially harmful interactions between medications.
  • Web-based PHRs can be an important source for critical information when patients are traveling, in need of emergency care or providing caregiver support to dependents who are elderly or away from home.

PHR Privacy and Access

Well-designed PHRs are private and secure. No one should be able to view a person's PHR without appropriate consent. However, patients may be able to permit or specify special access and viewing permissions that would allow use of the PHR in a critical emergency situation. In this limited type of emergency situation, clinicians may be able to access patients' medical history when patients are not able to provide urgently needed information. For example, emergency care clinicians should be able to learn if patients have allergies or are taking medications that may affect the care they deliver. The information contained in the PHR is meant to be available at all times, whenever and wherever the patient and their authorized users have access to the Web. 

Additional Information

For additional information related to PHRs, please see the Frequently Asked Questions.

PDF of Clinicians' Quick Reference Guide to Personal Health Records