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Learn More About Personal Health Records

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How would a Personal Health Record (PHR) work for me?

Most people have their health information in lots of different places - at home, in their doctor's or therapist's offices, and anywhere they've been hospitalized. A PHR can help keep all of this information in one place, making it easier to find and share with others such as specialists or family members. In addition to the information you might have from your doctors, there might be information you would like to add about your health status that medical claims or medical records might not include, such as your family's health history, allergies to medications and foods, or a Living Will. With a central record, you can share information about your recent health services and conditions with all of your doctors. Sometimes this might help avoid having duplicate procedures or tests, saving both time and money.

A PHR can also make a big difference in a medical emergency. Hospitals usually only need a few key facts to give you the fastest and best care in any emergency - your medications, allergies (especially to drugs), and emergency contact information. If you have a PHR, you can establish special permissions and/or passwords to allow others to have access to it so that they can have this critical information quickly - this basic information may save your life.

Key points to remember about Personal Health Records: You control the health information in your PHR;

  • If your PHR is Internet-based, you can access it from any place at any time, and easily share it with others if you wish;
  • You can update certain health information to make sure it stays current;
  • You will be able to use tools to get information about your health conditions and learn what to expect from medications you are taking;
  • You may even be able to request prescription refills, schedule appointments, or send an email to your doctor with certain kinds of PHRs;
  • You can keep information on your PHR that could help in an emergency situation, and give others limited access to the PHR for just this purpose.
* Note: A PHR is not the same thing as an Electronic Health Record (EHR) or Electronic Medical Record (EMR). The main difference between a PHR and an EHR is that you control who can see or use the information in the PHR, while the doctor (or hospital) controls the information in the EHR. See EHealthRecords for information about EHRs.

Is my health information private and secure in a Personal Health Record (PHR)?

In a PHR, your information is protected from being viewed without your consent or authorization because of the security technology used by the companies who offer PHRs. Since you will have your own unique user ID and password, you can control who can see the information in your PHR.

Some of the organizations that provide PHRs include health plans and providers. Health plans and most health care providers are required to give you a Notice of Privacy Practices, which tells you how they keep your personal information private and safe, including when it is maintained in a PHR. If you don't remember seeing the privacy notice, you should ask the health plan or provider for a copy, or check the website where you log in to your PHR.

For information related to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, such as protection of patient records, filing a privacy complaint or other questions, visit Office of Civil Right - HIPPA on the web.

What kind of information should I keep in a Personal Health Record (PHR)?

A PHR should store the personal and health information you wish to keep in one place so that you can look at it and share it with your providers, caregivers, and family members. Your PHR should have your current personal information, like your name, birth date, and address. You should also make sure you can enter special information that is important to you, such as:

  • Names and phone numbers of people who should be contacted in case of emergency
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of your doctors, including specialists and dentists
  • Health insurance information, like the name of your insurance company and key phone numbers for service (if you have other insurance in addition to Medicare)
  • Current medications and dosages
  • Allergies (to foods, drugs and other substances)
  • Important events, dates, and hereditary conditions in your family history
  • A list and dates of significant illnesses and surgical procedures
  • Results from recent doctor visits
  • Important tests results; eye and dental records, immunization records (if the PHR is provided by your doctor or hospital, or if you can enter the information yourself)
  • Any information you want to include about your health - such as your exercise regimen, any over-the-counter or herbal medications you take and any counseling you may receive.

How do I find and choose a Personal Health Record (PHR)?

There are many types of PHRs available today, from a variety of organizations. Some Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plans offer PHRs. If you are a member of a health plan, check the Plan website, or contact the member service department to find out if one is available to you now. Some PHRs are offered by doctors, and others are provided by independent companies who create and maintain these tools on your behalf, and might be able to get your health information from your doctor or health plan if you give them appropriate permission.

To choose a PHR, here are some questions you should ask:

  • What kind of information can I store in the PHR, such as medical conditions (diagnoses), procedures, allergies, medications and other personal information?
  • Can the PHR import my claims or medical information from my health plan and/or doctors?
  • What kinds of features does the PHR offer, such as the ability to print a list of my medications or conditions?
  • Can I give permission to my doctors or family members to look at my PHR for me?
  • What kinds of links does the PHR offer for health education information?
  • If a doctor offers a PHR, can I refill prescriptions through the tool? Or make appointments?
  • Is there a monthly or annual fee to use the PHR? Is there a cost for the features I want?
  • What will happen to my information if I leave the health plan that offers it to me or if I change doctors?
  • What will happen to my information if the company that provides the PHR goes out of business or becomes part of another company?
  • What are the PHR's privacy and security policies?
If your doctor or health plan does not offer a PHR today, you can check what's available from other companies by clicking here to be taken to a special website:

How do I create a Personal Health Record (PHR)?

Some PHRs are created and kept up-to-date by your health plan or provider. Other PHRs enable you to enter your information yourself. Some are a combination, and have data from the plan or provider, and allow you to add more information. If you decide not to use a PHR that is sponsored by your health plan or provider, you can still select a "stand-alone" PHR tool, and you will have to enter all of the information yourself. You can begin by entering the information that you already know, like your personal information, medications, and your doctors' names. Be sure to update your information regularly and share it with your doctors when you have an appointment.

Does CMS offer a Personal Health Record (PHR) for people with Medicare?

CMS offers the following PHR pilot programs:

If you are not eligible for one of the pilot programs listed above, CMS does not offer PHRs to other people with Medicare at this time. However, you may still choose to store your health information in a PHR. CMS is helping to educate people about the uses and benefits of PHRs so that they can make wise choices when choosing and using others that are available in the market place. CMS is evaluating the PHRs in the current pilot programs and talking to people with Medicare to determine the kinds of features and functions that these users like and dislike. . For more information, please visit Personal Health Records on the web.

Can a caregiver for someone with Medicare use a Personal Health Record (PHR) to help manage their (beneficiary's) health care?

If you help make health care decisions for a loved one or take care of someone with Medicare, you do not automatically have a right to see or use their medical information, even though you may need it in order to make sure their care is coordinated. By law, only the patient has the right to their own health information, even if you are an immediate family member or if you help set up their PHR. However, if your loved one has or wants to have their information kept in a personal health record and wants you to be able to use it, have them submit a written authorization to his/her doctors, healthcare facilities and health plan so that you can have appropriate access to all of their health care information. You may already have filed an authorization with the individuals' provider or health plan for this type of access under the HIPAA privacy rule. It is important that the authorization be complete and comprehensive - and that it gives the provider (doctor or hospital) permission to release all information regarding treatment and care to you, and/or anyone else designated. Some PHRs have a place on the home page that allows the individual to give permission to other people to access the tool. That person will then have their own User ID and password.

What other Personal Health Record (PHR) Resources are available to help me understand how to select and use a PHR?

  • MyHealtheVet - This is a personal health record specifically designed for, and used by, Veterans. It is a comprehensive and interactive tool for diagnoses, procedures and medications, including refill requests.
  • myPHR -This website is provided as a free public service by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). It provides comprehensive information about personal health records.
  • Arizona Health e-Connection - AZHeC's mission is to help Arizona consumers, insurers and providers find their way in the space where the importance of medical information and the power of information technology come together. They provide information on personal health records and other new advances such as e-prescribing.
  • American Heart Association In addition to comprehensive information about heart health, in 2007, the American Heart Association launched the Blood Pressure Management Center, an online health management tool that was built on HealthVault - the Microsoft Corporations consumer health platform. Blood Pressure Management Center will allow consumers to track their health information online to help better manage their risk for heart disease and stroke, with an initial emphasis on managing high blood pressure.
  • My Medicare -My is an internet portal allowing registered beneficiaries the ability to view claims, enrollment, deductibles, and address of record information. You can also choose a Part D Prescription drug plan from
  • Centers for Control Disease and Prevention. The CDC provides comprehensive information about many health issues, and is a good tool for researching certain conditions.
  • National Health Council - The Council works with organizations across the country to find ways to improve health and health care for all people, particularly those with chronic diseases and/or disabilities.

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Page Last Updated: January 13, 2009


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