Personal health record - do you need one?

Keeping track of your own medical information can save time and money, help you make treatment decisions, and much more.

stack of notebooks and binders with digital phone or tablet on top

Updated on March 29, 2024.

Imagine you go to a healthcare provider (HCP) you haven’t seen before. As the HCP writes you a prescription for an antibiotic, they ask if you’re allergic to any medications. You know you had a bad reaction to an antibiotic a few years ago, but what was its name?

Or maybe your child’s school asks for a copy of their immunization records, but you don’t remember where you put it. Or maybe you’re not sure when you had your last eye exam.

A personal health record (PHR) is just the tool you need to keep track of this information and more.

What is a personal health record?

Think of a PHR as having a quick health history reference at your fingertips. Just as an HCP's office keeps a chart of your medical records, a PHR is a chart you keep for yourself. You can put any information in it that you think is important to your health. It can include lists of medications and lab test results, for example, but also your exercise routines and diet plan.

Your PHR could be a paper file. In fact, if you keep your health records in a box, you already have a type of PHR.

But if possible, keeping a digital PHR is much more versatile. You, or someone caring for you, can access it whenever you need, using a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Some insurance plans and medical practices offer PHRs that are connected to the medical records they keep. You can also build your own PHR at one of many free or subscription websites.

PHRs can help you:

  • Give vital information if you need treatment during an emergency
  • Avoid duplicate procedures and tests, which saves time and money
  • Prepare for HCP appointments and track your health between visits
  • Make decisions about treatment options, preventive care, and more
  • Even help you schedule HCP visits, refill prescriptions, and email your HCPs

How is it different than an electronic health record?

It’s all about control. Whereas electronic health records (EHRs) are maintained and controlled by HCPs, you control and maintain your PHR. That means you decide who can access your health information.

What's more, PHRs are more powerful because often they are more complete. Though a growing number of medical practices are using EHRs, they may use different systems and not easily share information with each other, or with you. By building your own PHR, you can collect all your records—across all your HCPs—in one place.

What should I include in my PHR?

Your PHR should contain at least the following information:

  • Personal identification, including name, birth date, and Social Security number
  • Next of kin or people to contact in case of emergency
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of physicians, dentists, specialists, and other HCPs
  • Health insurance information
  • Living wills and advance directives
  • Organ donor authorization
  • A list and of significant illnesses and surgeries, with dates
  • Current medicines and dosages
  • Immunization records
  • Allergies
  • Your family health history
  • Recent physical examination
  • Opinions of specialists
  • Important test results
  • Eye and dental records
  • Correspondence with HCPs
  • Permission forms for release of information, surgeries, and medical procedures

Why should I keep my PHR up-to-date?

More than anyone else, you know what your health record should contain. And that's why keeping your PHR current is important. Plus, it's a great way to take an active role in your own health care.

Another reason to keep your PHR up-to-date is that it can also reflect your preferences and values on sensitive issues, like end-of-life care. It's your record—make the most of it.

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