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Maintaining Your Personal Health Record

Every time you visit a doctor, hospital, or other health care provider, a record of your visit is made. This information is then compiled into your health record. But, in most cases, a complete record of all your personal health information can't be found in any single location or consistent format. Keeping your own personal health record (PHR) allows you to provide doctors with valuable information that can help improve the quality of care you receive.

A PHR can help reduce or eliminate duplicate tests and allow you to receive faster, safer treatment and care in an emergency. It also can help you play a more active role in your health care.

What is a PHR?

Your PHR is made up of many reports. The specific content depends on the type of health care you've received throughout your life.

Documents common to most health records include medication records, health history, physical exam notes, progress notes, physicians' orders to other members of your health care team, X-ray and lab reports, and immunization records.

In 2003, federal laws known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) took effect to protect the privacy of health information. The laws also ensure you're able to view, request changes to, and obtain copies collected and kept about your health information documents.

When you need a PHR

Maintaining your own PHR is one of the best ways to have constant access to your health information. By keeping your own records, you and family members can always have vital information available, even if you change physicians or your physician relocates or retires.

With this information you can:

  • Knowledgeably discuss your health with health care providers

  • Provide information to new caregivers and specialists

  • Have access to your information when your doctor's office is closed

  • Refer to physician instructions, prescriptions, allergies, medications, and insurance claims

Creating a PHR

To start your PHR, request copies of your current health records from all your health care providers. Contact your doctor's office or the health information management or medical records staff at any hospital or facility where you received treatment and ask for an "authorization for the release of information" form.

Complete the form and return it, as directed. Ask in advance how much it will cost to fulfill your request.

In addition, your PHR should include your immunization status; a list of medications you currently take; a list of recent or current illnesses, including chronic illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes; and a list of past major illnesses or surgeries.

Your personal health record can be as simple as a file folder of records kept in your home, or it can be maintained on your home computer or through a reputable website. The key is to have information at hand and up-to-date.