The Importance of Personal Health Records

Whether you are currently healthy or managing a chronic illness, you should be keeping track of your personal health records. In this guest blog post, Margot shares some tips and resources that can help you ensure that your records are thorough and up to date.

Did you know that medical errors are the third largest cause of death after heart disease and cancer? Whether you are currently healthy or managing a chronic illness it is always the right time to create a thorough and up to date personal health record. Create or update your personal health record now to give yourself and your loved ones peace of mind. The gift of health is priceless.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Adding Up Diagnosis Errors" summarized the five leading reasons for medical errors:

1. Breakdown in communication during patient's initial visit to doctor
2. Doctor fails to refer patient to a specialist
3. Patient doesn't provide adequate medical history
4. Doctor fails to follow up with patient after diagnosis
5. Diagnostic tests aren't interpreted correctly

Accurate and comprehensive personal health records help eliminate reasons #1 and #3 above which will help make medical errors much less likely.

What should be included in a personal health record?

An appropriate personal health record should contain:

    • physician contact information
    • insurance information
    • detailed information on medical alerts
    • emergency contacts
    • health conditions
    • medications
    • allergies
    • illness history
    • immunization records

To enhance completeness, medical records should also include diagnostic and blood test results in addition to radiology reports (X-Rays and MRI's). They can also contain prior illness treatment notes and protocols followed.

What's the best way to organize a PHR?

A personal health record can be maintained either in analog or digital form. This means you can keep your "analog" records in a spiral notebook, loose-leaf binders or a series of folders with tabs. Digital records - also called electronic personal health records - are easier to carry, and can be easier to read and interpret because they are methodically organized. Digital health records can also be more thorough since personal health record software can prompt you for items that might otherwise be forgotten or omitted. MRI's and X-Rays can be stored on electronic personal health records which means you won't have to carry around unwieldy bags or briefcases filled with radiology images and reports.

You can create your own "analog" personal health record buy purchasing a loose-leaf binder, tabs, and folders at any office superstore. One resource is The Care Organizer which helps you systematically organize your paper records.

Portable electronic personal health records could also save your life if you are admitted to an emergency room and are either unconscious or incoherent. Your portable flash drive can be inserted to an emergency room computer. It gives the ER doctor all the medical information that he or she needs in an organized report, including details about possible life threatening pharmaceutical or other allergies. This information can help prevent the administration of potentially life threatening medications.

What's an Electronic Medical Record?

Personal health records are not the same as the "electronic medical records" (also called EMR's) that many physicians are now starting to use. Here is the difference: your personal health record carries all of your personal health information. It belongs to you and you can carry it with you between providers. This is a very important distinction if you are being treated for a chronic or debilitating illness that requires visits to a variety of specialists. Most physician records only include the records that you create in one specific physician group or hospital. Said in another way, the electronic health records maintained by physicians are usually physician specific and usually NOT coordinated among providers. They are not portable or transferable.

Lack of appropriate information can lead to devastating medial oversights. Eliminate that risk today - create a set of personal health records for yourself and your family. Make them proud of your diligence, foresight and conscientiousness.

How do you keep track of your personal health records?