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Consumers' Quick Reference Guide to Personal Health Records

The changing healthcare environment includes significant opportunities for improving care by providing consumers with increased access to and management of their health information and the health information of those loved ones they care for.  This guide will answer some of the questions you may have about personal health records, an information management tool that many see as vital to improving the quality of healthcare.   

The Personal Health Record

A Personal Health Record, or "PHR," is an electronic tool for managing all of your health and medical information in one location. Generally Web-based, a PHR may include information about your health and medication history, your family's medical history and other pertinent information, such as where you live, emergency contact information, allergies and travel destinations that may be subject to health precautions.

The Purpose of PHR

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

Benefits to you and your family 


Convenience

  • PHRs can provide a detailed record of your health history without you having to remember or keep paper records of immunization dates, injury and illness dates or treatments you have received.
  • Should you choose to, the information in your PHR can be shared with your clinician so he or she can easily see what types of treatments you have undergone and what medications have been prescribed for you.
  • As doctors' offices and hospitals increasingly use electronic record-keeping systems, PHRs connected to hospital or medical office information systems may simplify the patient registration process.

Education

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

Access to life-saving information 

  • PHRs may help clinicians identify potentially harmful interactions between medications you may be taking.
  • Web-based PHRs can be an important source for critical information when you 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 can view a person's PHR without appropriate consent, except possibly in a critical emergency situation (for which you may be able to specify access and viewing permissions that would apply). In this type of situation, emergency care clinicians should be able to learn if you have allergies or are taking medications that may affect your care, for example, and so may be able to access your medical history when you are unable to provide them with the information they need.  The information contained in your PHR is meant to be available at all times, whenever and wherever you and your authorized users have access to the Web. 

Additional Information

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

PDF of the Consumer's Quick Reference Guide to Personal Health Records.