Do You Want an Electronic Personal Health Record?

This post comes from Nolan Hester at partner site Insure.com:

It’s all too familiar. You’re seeing a new doctor, getting a lab test, consulting a specialist or having your teeth cleaned. And nearly every time, you’re handed a clipboard and asked to answer the same old questions.

Name, address, social security number, health insurance coverage. Check all boxes that apply: Any allergies? Heart disease? Diabetes? Prescription medication? Like the movie in which actor Bill Murray keeps reliving the same day, you’re caught in your own medical version of Groundhog Day.

Your personal health record

Personal health records (PHRs) can help you escape this repetitive process by providing a portable electronic record of your medical history. Information about your health, vaccinations and insurance claims can all be stored within a PHR. Individuals typically create PHRs for themselves, so the convenience of having one requires you to be pro-active about creating it. They can take many electronic forms, including:

  • PC-based records creating using special PHR software or simply a word-processing program.
  • Internet-based PHRs that are accessed with a Web browser.
  • Smart phone-based PHRs.
  • CD-ROM-based PHRs, or other portable formats such as iPhones.

But the appeal of this electronic convenience dims a bit when you consider all the sensitive, and possibly embarrassing, information a PHR might contain:

  • Blood glucose levels.
  • Blood pressure readings.
  • Heart rates and treadmill stress tests.
  • Emergency room visits.
  • Past operations and hospital stays.
  • HIV test results.
  • Family trees of your relatives’ medical histories.
  • Consent forms, advance directives or do-not-resuscitate orders.
  • Images such as X-rays, MRIs or multiple-year reference photos of skin blemishes that may or may not be pre-cancerous.

That’s all very useful information. But it’s deeply personal as well.

Some of that warts-and-all information you might want share with your doctor — but not with an ambulance driver or insurance claims processor.

“There is tremendous value in health care information. There are good uses and bad uses,” says Ashley Katz, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group Patient Privacy Rights. “The bad uses would include making money by selling or using the data, as well as saving money by denying claims or weeding out expensive patients/employees.”

At the moment, the bulk of health records are not created by individual consumers. Instead, there’s a parallel system of records being generated by health providers and insurance firms, which use them to track or pay for patients’ treatments. To distinguish them from PHRs, these corporate data are often called electronic health records (EHRs). Major EHR players include Aetna, Blue Shield, CIGNA, HealthNet, Kaiser, United/Pacificare and WellPoint/Blue Cross.

Online PHR services

A growing number of online services exist online can help you create your own PHR. The services are free or come with a low annual charge. You select the information you want on your record. You can also update the record as your health history changes, then share it with your doctor and others as you wish.

“If patients don’t have 100 percent control over PHRs, then it’s the health care industry, not the patient, that will be the primary beneficiary of PHRs,” says Katz. “Every patient needs to pay close attention to how all of their medical information is being used, stored and transmitted.”

Katz’ privacy group recently released a report card on five of the most popular services for creating your own PHR:

No More Clipboard was the only service to score an “A,” primarily because Katz’s group felt it gave consumers the most control over their personal data. Microsoft garnered a “B” for its HealthVault service but was given an “F” for not having tighter access controls for its many service partners.

Katz reminds consumers that health insurance companies may have very different reasons for championing the use of PHRs.

“Behind every PHR is a desire — be it altruistic or self-serving — to collect as much information as possible and make it useful,” she warns. “Literally millions of individuals can have access to your medical records. When you have that many hands in the pot, how in the world can you expect the information to be ‘secure’?”

Who can see your records?

Do you want your health insurance company to see everything you’ve discussed with your doctor? Probably not. You want a record system where certain “rooms” in your medical house are locked, or at least not open to just anyone. But who has the time needed to answer the electronic door every time a doctor, lab service or insurer needs access to your records?

Another problem in keeping your medical data private is that federal law makes it possible for medical and insurance firms to use your information without getting your express permission. This wrinkle, created by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), largely affects issues involving “treatment, payment and health care operations,” which covers a lot of ground.

The March 2010 overhaul of health care approved by Congress contains sweeping changes in the nation’s medical system. But Katz says it did not address the existing problems with PHRs and patient privacy.

“Our health information can be used in many, many ways without our permission and over our objections. That needs to change at the federal level,” says Katz. “Getting to a true patient-centric system of health care should be the goal.”

A well-designed, secure PHR system could streamline everyone’s health care while possibly saving the nation billions of dollars. And, finally, it wouldn’t matter that you can never remember the date of your last tetanus-diphtheria vaccination. But for now, PHRs remain a work in progress with their full potential still over the horizon.

More from Insure.com:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
13 Smart Tricks to Organize Every Room of Your Home
13 Smart Tricks to Organize Every Room of Your Home

Get your household organized with these brilliant and inexpensive tricks.

10 Food Staples That Are Easy and Cheap to Make Yourself
10 Food Staples That Are Easy and Cheap to Make Yourself

Making any of these key foods yourself will improve meals — and your budget.

5 Reasons You Should Work for as Long as You Live
5 Reasons You Should Work for as Long as You Live

These benefits might make you think twice about retirement.

How to Save Up to 70% on 7 Everyday Purchases
How to Save Up to 70% on 7 Everyday Purchases

Stop getting sucked into paying a premium when good alternatives are available at huge savings.

16 Products You Absolutely Do Not Need
16 Products You Absolutely Do Not Need

There are plenty of great ways to spend your money, but you can safely leave these products on the store shelf.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk
Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk

A new study finds that wearing a cloth mask can backfire if you don’t clean it properly.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.