A digital personal health record (PHR) is a computer-based software application that allows you to store a variety of personal health information including illnesses, hospitalizations, encounters (i.e. visits and communications), journal information in between doctor visits, medications, allergies, immunizations, surgeries, lab results, and family history. The personal health record differs from an electronic medical record which is a similar application with much more all-encompassing features used by healthcare providers such as scheduling and insurance billing, in addition to the storage of patient health data. Owning and maintaining an up-to-date digital personal health record has many benefits and is the cornerstone of proactive healthcare involvement and better healthcare experiences.
One of the chief reasons to have your health data stored electronically is it improves the quality of healthcare you receive by enabling you to be better prepared for doctor visits, equipped with the accurate and relevant information that your doctor needs to pursue an optimal treatment course. Because that vital data can then be conveyed to your doctor more efficiently, more time can be spent during the visit focusing on diagnosing and treating as opposed to gathering information. The latter fact is of paramount importance given the fact that healthcare providers in general have busier schedules and less time to spend with individual patients.
A digital PHR also ensures the availability of your health information in a legible form and facilitates the flow of that information between your and healthcare provider(s) whether only one physician is treating you or several doctors are participating in your care. Information in the record can be conveyed to your health-care provider(s) verbally, in print out form, digitally on an external medium such as a flash drive, and in some cases via the Internet prior to office visits. This ease of transfer of medical data is vitally important considering the fact that 18% of medical errors are due to inadequate availability of patient information. Moreover, medical records are frequently lost, doctors retire, hospitals or HMOs purges old records to save storage space, and employers frequently change group health insurance plans resulting in patients needing to change doctors and request transfer medical records which are sometimes illegible. Despite efforts on the part of the government to encourage doctors to keep medical records on a computer, i.e. utilize electronic medical records (EMRs) also called electronic health records (EHRs) in order to reduce errors, the fact of the matter is only 5% of doctors keep medical records on the computer and many that have purchased EMRs have never effectively implemented them or continued to use them in their practices.
Another compelling reason to have an updated personal health record is it could save your life. The Center for Disease Control on its annual list of leading cause of death included medical airs which was listed six ahead of diabetes and pneumonia. Approximately 120,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable medical errors in hospitals, and who knows what the total is including patients treated outside of the hospital. Equally daunting is the fact that most emergency rooms cannot adequately retrieve your critical health information in a time of emergency.
The fourth reason to have a PHR is to reduce your healthcare expenses. Doctors generally use subjective and objective information about you in arriving at a diagnosis and treatment plan. Subjective data is that information which can be expressed by you such as your symptoms, and objective data is that information which can be measured and recorded, such as physical exam findings, x-ray reports and laboratory test results. Many diagnoses and treatment decisions can be based in large part on subjective information obtained from the patient or patient’s family, but if sufficient and appropriate subjective data cannot be obtained healthcare provider tend to rely more on objective data including x-rays and lab tests which result in higher treatment costs. X-rays and laboratory tests are oftentimes performed unnecessarily because they were recently performed but the patient did not know the results or did not even know they were performed, fueling the flames of rising healthcare costs.
The fifth reason you need your personal health information stored in a computer desktop-based application is to ensure the privacy of your information. There are online repositories that will store your health record, but there are definite concerns regarding privacy and the security of your data. By using a computer-based application to store all-important data about your health, you can ensure that the information remains private and secure. If you feel the need for greater security of the data within your computer or that which has been exported to a flash drive, there are affordably priced folder protection software programs which will protect the data by requiring a login. Alternatively, there are also biometric fingerprint reading devices which can be installed on your computer allowing login with a finger swipe.
The sixth reason you should have a computer-based record of your health information is the fact that maintaining a health record is a shared responsibility between the health-care provider and the health-care consumer. If you doubt that, try filling out a health insurance application without recorded health information to refer to. Traditionally patients have relied upon their healthcare providers to know everything about them and to record that information, but in today’s era of change and looming healthcare reform, that cruise control approach is rapidly coming to a screeching halt. Just as taxpayers are held accountable for knowing and verifying the information they submit or the information that is submitted for them on their tax returns, healthcare consumers are going to be held more accountable for knowing and verifying what is in their medical record. This will be readily apparent if you are ever audited by the Internal Revenue Service or if you have health insurance benefits excluded after your policy has gone into effect because of pre-existing conditions which were not recorded in the insurance application questionnaire at the time of filing.
The seventh reason to have a digital personal health record is to enhance your doctor/patient rapport and engender mutual appreciation. I can recall those patients who were well-prepared with organized, relevant quality information to provide during their patient encounters and the delight I had in treating them. That type of encounter makes the practice of medicine much more fun and mutually beneficial. On the other hand, the patient, by seeking and obtaining a better understanding of my diagnostic and treatment course developed a greater appreciation for me and my efforts. I trust that your experience will be the same.
With more than 20 years experience treating and evaluating patients I recognize the importance of patients having a good working knowledge of their personal health information, but realize that many times that knowledge is lacking.