By Nancy B. Finn

There has been so much discussion online and in the press about electronic health records and physicians sharing EHR data with patients via such tools as OpenNotes and Blue Button, that the personal health record (PHR) has been lost in the dialogue.

The PHR is a tool for patients to collect the diverse silos of their health information: current and past history, medications, prescribed and over-the-counter, downloads from apps and wearable devices, allergies, procedures and surgeries, and have that information wherever and whenever you require or seek care.

PHRs might also include information that your doctor may not have, such as your exercise routines, hereditary illnesses, or changes in your dietary habits. Having a PHR should improve your care by providing you with an easy way to share   your information with multiple providers. Setting up and maintaining the PHR will also increase your own awareness of your health and help you make informed health decisions.

Your PHR does not replace, the legal medical record (EHR) of your primary care provider. It is a record compiled and maintained by you, and in many situations, is the only place where all of a your medical information including: insurance details, lab results, names and phone numbers of doctors and details of injuries, illnesses, surgeries, procedures, allergies and treatment is available in one document 24/7 on a web-enabled device, such as a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

PHRs, are offered by a variety of sources, such as: health care providers, insurers, employers, commercial suppliers of PHRs. Many Physician Groups and local hospitals offer PHRs through their patient portals or on their web sites. Many payers also offer PHRs on their websites. They can be stored in a number of ways from a simple paper file folder to a USB drive or online through a web-based service that is available so that you can enter and update your health information anytime 24/7.

Among the choices for you to investigate in setting up a PHR are the following online options where viable PHR tools are available and often free:

My Medi Connect https://www.mymediconnect.net/ Microsoft Health Vault https://www.healthvault.com/us/en American Health Information Management Association AHIMA http://www.myphr.com/

A 2009 study, reported in Health Affairs, concluded that more than $8 billion is wasted each year because of redundant lab and radiology testing. One of the reasons for patients to have a PHR is the reduction or elimination of these duplicate procedures. With an up to date personal health record that includes all test data and results, a second round of tests become unnecessary.  Additionally with all of the  diagnostic tools: sensors on smartphones and wearable items that track fitness and biometrics, data can sync from these apps and devices into the PHR and be sent to your providers, or stored and available when needed.

In a nationally representative survey of more than 2,100 respondents, conducted by the Office of the National Coordinator, and reported in Health Data Management, one-third of individuals reported a gap in health information among their providers or between themselves and their providers. These gaps included one or more of the following: had to bring an X-ray, MRI, or other type of test result to provider appointment; had to wait for test results longer than individual thought reasonable; had to redo a test or procedure because the earlier test results were not available; had to provide medical history again because individual’s chart could not be found; and had to tell a provider about medical history because they had not gotten records from another provider.  This reinforces without a doubt the value of the PHR.

When looking at the issue of whether or not patients respond positively to having and using personal health records, a study published online Sept. 8 in the Annals of Family Medicine, found that 25.6 percent of patients used an interactive preventive health record (IPHR), with the rate increasing 1 percent per month over 31 months. Among the study population, nearly one-quarter of users (23.5 percent) signed up within one day of their office visit. IPHR use was more likely among older patients and patients with co-morbidities but less likely among blacks and Hispanics.

Another study by the Center for Information Technology Leadership (CITL), a nonprofit IT research center based at Partners HealthCare System in Boston, suggests that a change in the way we keep health records could save billions. According to the report, widespread use of PHRs could save the US healthcare industry between $13 and $21 billion a year.

All of this evidence suggests that the PHR has extraordinary value including the ability to eliminate redundant testing, save billions in healthcare costs and insure that a patient’s full information is available to all their physicians at the point of care.

In an emergency the PHR can be a lifesaver, providing vital information including diseases the patient is being treated for, drugs the patient is allergic to and how to contact the primary care provider or other emergency contact to coordinate care.

In conclusion, although there is no answer as to why the PHR has not been more popular and widespread,  it is time to bring it back so that every patient can benefit from more efficient, cost effective and safe medical practice.

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