Nancy B. Finn is a journalist with an expertise in the implementation of digital communications in health care and shared this story about personal health records:

I was recently hospitalized. Fortunately I did not have to go through the emergency department but was admitted directly to a room. When I arrived, the nurse assigned to my case sat down with me to go over my medical history and medications. Much to her surprise I provided her with my personal health record (PHR) that I had created several months earlier on the iHealth Record web site www.ihealthrecord.org. My PHR included information on the illnesses I had contracted; my family medical history, medical proxy, and most important my medications and allergies to medications and food. With this information, the nurse was able to complete our interview quickly and efficiently, confident that the information was accurate and up to date. She let me know that she had not run into a patient with a PHR before and that she was clearly impressed.

I was at Massachusetts General Hospital, an institution that had my electronic medical record digitally stored in the computer, so much of this data was available. However, I see many different providers who are both within and outside the hospital network so portions of my medical history were not in the hospital EMR. Furthermore, had I been admitted to a hospital that did not have my medical record, there would have been no way of knowing anything about my health history without this PHR. It is scary to contemplate having to recall all of my medical information at a time when I am ill and not at my best.

Much is being written and discussed about personal health records particularly as Microsoft Health Vault, Google Health and Dossia roll out their PHR platforms. Shortly after Google Health was unveiled more than two dozen companies announced that they would become partners with Google to create PHRs for their employees. Microsoft HealthVault, Dossia and Web MD have experienced similar enthusiastic response from industry and healthcare institutions.

At the recent Connected for Health Symposium in Boston, MA, representatives from each of those organizations spoke about their PHR strategy. Each of them has aligned with large employers, and/ or with payers and/or with provider organizations to offer PHRs that will support individuals dealing with chronic disease; that will provide data for analysis, that stores information entered by individuals, payers and providers securely and can be retrieved by providers when and where they need to access that information.

We know that fewer than one in five doctors are using an electronic health record in their practice because the logistics of installing, implementing and training staff to use these records is a task of great magnitude and one that most doctors who are not affiliated with large institutions do not have the time or resources to accomplish. With employers solidly behind the concept of each of their employees having a personal health record, the patient-owned PHR has the potential to fill a gap in information needed at the point of care by empowering consumers to create their own record, in a secure environment, that contains all of the health information that patient’s have about themselves. This data can be merged with information that the provider records at the time of an office or hospital visit. The result is a patient population that can interact with providers in new and different ways to optimize care.

You never know when you might have to go into the hospital. I certainly did not plan my hospital visit, – it was totally unexpected. With a PHR readily available, the patient is a giant step closer to protecting their most valuable asset – their health and wellbeing.

Nancy will respond to comments here, or you can check out her blog: HealthCare Basics

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