The days of scrambling to recall or find immunization dates or medication names and doses may be numbered. An electronic personal health record is likely to replace those handwritten notes and scattered papers.
The January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource discusses this new way to manage personal health information, most often on the Internet.
A basic personal health record includes the patient's name and date of birth, emergency contacts, names and contact information for care providers, insurance information, a list of past illnesses and surgical procedures, current medications and dates they were prescribed, allergies, results and dates of recent tests or doctor visits, immunization records, family history of illnesses or hereditary conditions, and other health information such as a living will or advanced directives.
Personal health records offer many potential benefits, including quick access to information that could be a lifesaver in an emergency situation. But the technology is still evolving, and many challenges are yet to be worked out.
Among those challenges are where the records will be stored and how they will be accessed and updated. Many of today's personal health records are connected to existing electronic medical records from a single health care provider or insurer. The health care provider may be able to upload data from devices that measure heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose or peak airway flow. Increasingly, medical providers are offering patients password-protected access to test results and other data in the individual's medical record. One drawback is that providers from other health care organizations may not be able to access this type of personal health record.
Other personal health records are designed to stand alone, giving the patient more control and responsibility over what's included. This approach may allow multiple parties to access and update the information. For example, the patient can record exercise and diet progress, a pharmacist can input prescription information, and a doctor can add test results.
However, various providers might not use the same information format, perhaps hindering efforts to keep health records up-to-date and well organized. The patient has the responsibility to ensure that the information is current and accurate.
Privacy is another concern. Health information stored on a stand-alone Web site may not be as secure as data stored by a health care system, which must comply with privacy rules mandated by the federal government's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Patients interested in learning more about a personal health record should start by investigating what's available through primary health care providers or insurers. If no template is available, patients can request electronic or written records to start a stand-alone personal record.