When most people hear of medical software, they imagine programs like electronic health records or telehealth. But it’s not just providers and healthcare IT who use them for the health industry. Patients are turning to software as part of their greater involvement in their health needs. We cover one of them, personal health records, from what it does to how it’s one of the medical software shaping healthcare’s future

Overview of Personal Health Record Software 

A personal health record, or PHR, is a file containing healthcare-related information created and maintained by the patient. Many started as paper files and documents. Patients as early as the Eighties turned to apps, websites, and other electronics to note down their doctor visits, medications, and even wills. This is one of the reasons a PHR is also referred to as a “free EMR.”

Differences between PHR and EHR / EMR

The patient creates and controls their personal health records. They decide what information goes in it or not. Contrast this to electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) which are owned by healthcare organizations from medical clinics, hospitals, to health insurance companies. 

Other notable differences:

  • Patients are not legally obligated to have PHRs. Healthcare providers, on the other hand, must legally record their patients’ health information and treatment plans. 
  • Data held in EHRs and EMRs are much more extensive, including visit notes and test results. 
  • Various laws regulate EHR and EMR information like who has access to them. This may or may not apply to PHRs. 
  • Patients may not be able to transfer their medical records to new healthcare groups. This is called “siloing” and may be due to incompatibility between the groups’ record systems, legal reasons, or both. Or the patient may see multiple providers who each use a different EHR/EMR (example: a veteran with both VA benefits as well as private insurance). Having a personal health record makes it easy to keep track of all that health information by keeping it in one location.

How Personal Health Record Software Works

In the past, PHRs were usually paper files. Today, patients can hold their medical information in an electronic device like a smartphone, online, or both. Popular ones include:

  • Medfusion Plus
  • Medisafe
  • My Health History
  • My Medical

Information held in one varies on the patient. The following are considered the very basic to start:

  • Providers’ names and important phone numbers
  • Allergies
  • Chronic diseases like diabetes
  • Drug allergies and effects
  • Family health history 
  • Major illnesses and dates
  • Hospitalizations and dates
  • Imaging reports and results (e.g., X-ray, CAT scan) and dates
  • Laboratory test results and dates taken
  • Medications including dose information
  • “Observations of daily living”
  • Past medical and surgical interventions with dates 
  • Prescription log
  • Surgeries and similar procedures with dates performed
  • Vaccinations and dates given

Patients can add more information as they come up with new goals and resolutions. PHRs can be adapted to include: 

  • Blood pressure readings
  • Dietary information like food logs
  • Exercise goals and accomplishments
  • Special health goals like weight loss, reduce cholesterol level, or to stop smoking

Data from apps for health such as FitOn, Beachbody On Demand, and MyFitnessPal may be synced or manually entered into personal records. 

Speaking of sync, some healthcare providers offer ways to tie an EHR to a PHR. Called “patient portals,” patients can directly add select information to their medical record. Blood pressure readings are a good example. Same with insulin usage and similar drug usage. Providers can pull real-time information up on their medical computers to better track the patient’s conditions and response to treatment plans.   

Another advantage to patient portals is cybersecurity. Those that provide them usually fall under the authority of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Enacted to protect patient information, HIPAA extends that coverage as well to select information from personal records through the Privacy Rule. Many computers like medical tablets used in clinics and hospitals have features like RFID readers and Imprivata Single Sign On software to make sure only authorized personnel can access a patient’s health records. 

Unsurprisingly, the rule does not apply to portals provided by businesses and vendors which do not fall under HIPAA mandates. 

PHRs synced with patient portals can also provide real-time services like:

  • Appointment scheduling and management 
  • Drug interaction checking
  • Electronic messaging between the patient and their providers
  • Refill requests
  • Reminders

Patients who prefer to keep their personal health separate should be prepared to manually enter information as very few groups are willing or even capable of sending information electronically to PHRs that aren’t part of a portal. 

Closing Thoughts

Personal health records are files personally created and maintained by patients on their medical care. Information within can vary from providers’ contact information to dietary and exercise goals. PHRs are not the same as EMR and EHR though they may contain similar information.

Contact an expert at Cybernet if your medical practice is involved in seeing workers comp cases and how medical computers can make the determination process more smooth and efficient for those injured. 

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