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Not All Records Are Created Equal – Personal Health Records Versus Medical Records

November 1, 2016
Posted by: Jamie Zacher, PharmD

A medical record is not the same as a Personal Health Record (PHR). A medical record is information maintained by a healthcare provider and a PHR is information maintained by the patient. Patients own their PHR while the healthcare provider or payer owns the medical record that contains their medical information. However, according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), all patients have the right to review and get a copy of their health records which are held by a healthcare provider. (1)  In fact, requesting information from a medical record is the best way to obtain medical information for a PHR.

A PHR is a tool for collecting, maintaining, and sharing all current and past medical information. Many patients already maintain some type of personal health record whether it is in a folder in a file cabinet, a box with medical forms, or using an electronic format.

Patients may visit more than one doctor, use various health care systems and use more than one local or mail order pharmacy. Most of the time the records from the offices of different doctors and pharmacies are kept in separate databases. A PHR can be useful to combine all of the medical information from multiple sources and store it in one location. Since all the medical information would be in one place, when the patient sees a new provider or pharmacy, the patient only need share the PHR to provide a complete medical history.

Each patient can decide what they want to include in their PHR. The following items are recommended (2):

• Name and phone number of any physicians the patient is under the care of
• Drug allergies
• Prescription and over-the-counter medications, including any herbal supplements
• Chronic health problems
• Lab results
• X-rays and medical images
• Immunization history
• Major surgeries
• Family history
• Living will or advance directives

Ultimately the patient decides what information to include in a PHR and with whom to share this information. Once medical information is obtained from the healthcare provider, the patient can enter this information into their PHR. It is important for patients to always update their PHR with current information.

For most patients, an electronic PHR (ePHR) may be the best option for sharing information in the PHR with healthcare providers. In addition, an electronic PHR can be set to automatically update to include any new information added in another database or digital health device. In an upcoming blog, we will discuss the benefits and risks of an electronic PHR.


1. http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/index.html

2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/personal-health-record/art-20047273?pg=1

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