Personal Health Record - Do You Need One?

Medically reviewed in October 2022

Something like this has happened to all of us: You go to a doctor you haven’t seen before, and as the doctor is writing you a prescription for an antibiotic, she asks if you’re allergic to any medications. You know you had a bad reaction to an antibiotic a few years ago, but what was the name?

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

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 it as a quick reference to your health history at your fingertips. Just as your doctor’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: 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 a web-based PHR is much more versatile. You, or someone caring for you, can access it wherever and whenever you need it, using a computer, phone or tablet. Some insurance plans and medical practices offer PHRs that are connected to the medical records they keep, but you can also build your own PHR at one of many free or subscription websites.

PHRs can also help you:

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

How is it different than an electronic health record?
It’s all about control. Whereas electronic health records (EHRs) are maintained and controlled by each of your health care providers, you control and maintain your PHR, and you decide who can access your health information. 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 physicians—in one place.

What should I include in my PHR?
At the very least, your PHR should contain 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 and specialists
  • 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 provider(s)
  • 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 have in it. 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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