An electronic personal health record makes it easy to gather and manage your medical information in one accessible and secure location. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're like most people, you have a number of health concerns and visit multiple doctors and pharmacies. Keeping track of it all is a challenge. With a personal health record, you can gather — and manage — all that information in one easily accessible location.

A personal health record is simply a collection of information about your health. If you have a shot record or a box of medical papers, you already have a basic personal health record. And you've probably encountered the big drawback of paper records: You rarely have them with you when you need them.

Electronic personal health record systems remedy that problem by making your personal health record accessible to you anytime via a Web-enabled device, such as your computer, phone or tablet.

Personal health records are not the same as electronic health records or electronic medical records, which are owned and operated by doctors' offices, hospitals or health insurance plans. There are a growing number of doctors' offices using these systems, but those that do often limit your access to and control of your medical record.

You decide what you put in your personal health record. In general, though, it needs to include anything that helps you and your health care providers manage your health — starting with the basics:

  • Your primary care doctor's name and phone number
  • Allergies, including drug allergies
  • Your medications, including dosages
  • Chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure
  • Major surgeries, with dates
  • Living will or advance directives

You can also add information about what you're doing to prevent disease, such as:

  • Results of screening tests
  • Cholesterol level and blood pressure
  • Exercise and dietary habits
  • Health goals, such as stopping smoking or losing weight

Having a personal health record can be a lifesaver, literally. In an emergency you can quickly give emergency personnel vital information, such as a disease you're being treated for, medications you take, drug allergies, and how to contact your family doctor.

A personal health record not only allows you to share information with your care providers but also empowers you to manage your health between visits. For example, a personal health record enables you to:

  • Track and assess your health. Record and track your progress toward your health goals, such as lowering your cholesterol level.
  • Make the most of doctor visits. Be ready with questions for your doctor and information you want to share, such as blood pressure readings since your last visit.
  • Manage your health between visits. Upload and analyze data from home-monitoring devices such as a blood pressure cuff. And remind yourself of your doctor's instructions from your last appointment.
  • Get organized. Track appointments, vaccinations, and preventive or screening services, such as mammograms.

Building a complete health record takes some time. You have to collect and enter all your health information. Plus, you have to keep your record current by updating it each time you see a doctor, fill a prescription, have a test or go to the hospital.

Why isn't there an easier way? Doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance companies have been slow to adopt information technology. Only a minority of these groups can send information electronically to your personal health record.

Even if your doctor can send information to your personal health record, you need to review whatever is sent. The process of transferring health data electronically is still in its infancy — and it isn't always perfect.

Perhaps the most common concerns about personal health records are about privacy and security. To address these concerns, reputable systems follow industry best practices, such as making their privacy policies public and submitting to monitoring by independent organizations. In addition, federal laws have been put in place to to protect the security of personal health information.

As with any decision about your health, it's important to do a little research before you jump in. When you're evaluating your options, consider these questions:

  • Is the system easy for me to use?
  • Can I enter all the information I want to track?
  • How will my information be kept private?
  • Will information be added to my record from outside sources, such as insurance or doctors' offices? How and what will be added?
  • Can I correct or delete information in my record?
  • Can I share information with my doctor and other caregivers?
  • Can I upload data from home-monitoring devices, such as a peak flow meter or blood pressure cuff?
  • What will it cost? Are there any special fees?
  • Will it help me manage my health by providing information and advice?
  • Can I create an account for my whole family and manage information for my family members?
Apr. 13, 2014