PicnicHealth Explains: What is a Personal Health Record?

the PicnicHealth Team
May 1, 2020
Blog post originally written by the AllStripes community team. AllStripes was acquired by PicnicHealth in 2023.

A common question we hear from patients is: what are electronic health records, electronic medical records, and personal health records? These three terms typically crop up in discussions about the private information of patients and how that gets recorded by healthcare providers. For patients to understand their records well, they need to know the difference.

What’s a Personal Health Record?

Personal health records (PHRs) are defined as a health record controlled by the patient. These records include content that comes from multiple sources or healthcare providers, as well as information that has been entered by the patient themselves. A PHR is the patient’s record, and it’s different from the legal files generated by the healthcare providers themselves.

Patients can have their PHRs through the services of health plans that come from their providers, independent vendors, or employers that provide them with health benefits.

What is found inside a Personal Health Record?

The basic demographic and medical information of the patient is included in a PHR. The PHR covers items such as the patient’s name, birthday, allergies, and emergency contact information, as well as the dates of their last visits to a healthcare provider. It can also include the dates of laboratory tests or procedures and those results. Major surgeries, illnesses, and appointments when those happened or had gotten diagnosed can also be found here, along with chronic diseases and a family history of any conditions.

A lot of the information found in a PHR can be quite similar to that of an EHR or an EMR. But because the patients themselves can update PHRs, these patient-generated health data can be more informative, especially with chronic illnesses. Patients that add a lifelog into their PHRs can provide an up-to-date record of how their chronic disease affects them in day to day life, especially during times that a healthcare provider isn’t there to supervise them. It allows them to engage more actively in managing their chronic conditions.

The Different Types of PHR

There are two primary varieties of personal health records. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology defines them as the following:

  • Standalone PHRs – Patients are in control of their information with standalone PHRs. They can fill in their records, data, and memories. The data itself is stored in a patient’s personal computer, phone, or the cloud. With the patient in control of their data, they can decide whether or not to share these details with their family members, healthcare providers, or anyone else who might be looking after them health-wise.
  • Tethered or Connected PHRs – These types of PHRs are linked to a healthcare organization or provider’s system, and often feed into the service’s EHR system itself. The patient can access their information and records via a secure portal online and see their lab results, medical history, as well as due dates for immunization or treatments and screening. These types of records are part of the patient’s legal data and protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)’s Privacy Rule.

But are PHRs better than EMRs or EHRs? Neither is necessarily better; they simply have different uses. Certainly, EHRs can be a lot more flexible and accessible to medical personnel and any healthcare provider that would give the patient medical care. It leads to fewer errors and better decisions right away. However, PHRs have the advantage of giving patients transparency as well as better control over who gets to view their healthcare information. For some people, their privacy and control are worth more.

To get better access to and control of your healthcare information, visit PicnicHealth.com.


the PicnicHealth Team

About PicnicHealth

Empower people to own their medical records. Advance medicine. We’re a passionate group of doctors, patients, data nerds, engineers, and builders, who believe in making something real that changes lives today and in the future.

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Create a List

List the names of all the doctors, hospitals, and other facilities your loved one visits regularly, along with those they have visited in the past. Try to go back as far as you can, striving for at least the last 5-10 years, but do your best. Even if you can’t remember them all, having a strong baseline can help you quickly identify gaps in records.

Ensure You Have the Appropriate Legal Status

It is important to make sure that you are fully empowered to make decisions on behalf of your loved one with Alzheimer’s. Your relationship status with the patient may not be enough to legally give you access to your loved one's medical information. It is a good idea to talk to an expert about securing special legal status, such as Power of Attorney (POA), a legal document that allows an individual to name someone as their decision maker should they no longer be able to make decisions on their own.

Gather and Organize the Medical Records in One Place

It’s important to have all of your loved one’s medical records together in one spot. This makes it much easier for you and your loved one’s physicians to accurately map the patient’s medical journey and more easily share information between doctors. Fortunately, tools exist to make record management and access simple. A free resource like PicnicHealth helps you collect and organize all of this information. PicnicHealth’s intuitive timeline allows you to pinpoint data across the medical history, eliminating your need for keeping heavy binders filled with paper records or keeping track of multiple software portal logins.

Review the Medical Records to be an Informed Advocate

The better you understand your loved one's medical history, the better you can advocate on their behalf. Access and understanding of this information will help you to ask informed questions with physicians. Through regular communication backed by the data in the medical records, you can help your loved one’s care team develop a more successful care plan.

Learn more about PicnicHealth’s commitment to the Alzheimer’s community and the Alzheimer’s Association

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Together, we can make a difference.

Learn more about PicnicHealth’s commitment to the Alzheimer’s community and the Alzheimer’s Association

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Build a support network.

When you’re juggling appointment times and insurance claims, putting a robust support system together might not strike you as the most urgent task. Investing the time to cultivate relationships with people can turn to in times of need will pay dividends. The next time you need a last-minute ride or just someone to listen, you won’t be on your own.

There are many condition-specific support groups and support groups for caregivers generally in person or online. In addition to the encouragement and empathy they provide, support groups can be a helpful source of tips, resources, and recommendations for navigating caregiving.


Stay organized.

The backbone of effective caregiving is organization. Keep medical information, appointment schedules, and medication lists in order. Use a planner or a digital service like PicnicHealth to stay on top of your responsibilities. This attention to detail can prevent future complications and reduce day-to-day stress.


Explore treatments and clinical trials.

We’ve seen incredible breakthroughs in treatment over the past couple of years, powered by patients and their caregivers participating in research. Stay in the loop about the latest in medical advancements and available resources that could benefit your loved one. Whether it’s a new therapy option or a community service that aids independence, being informed can make a world of difference in the quality of care you provide.


Make time for self-care.

It may seem self-centered to focus on self-care—but when you feel good, you can be a better caregiver. Whether it’s exercise, a mindfulness practice, a soak in the bath, or just time to rest when you need it, carve out those moments in the day when you can unwind, reset, and stay healthy mentally and physically. Think of it as building up your reserves of kindness, patience, and understanding—which can only benefit your loved one. No one can pour from an empty cup.

Having trouble managing your loved one's medical records?

Easily manage all of your loved one's medical records and contribute to ongoing Alzheimer's research with PicnicHealth.

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LC-FAOD Odyssey: A Preliminary Analysis, presented at INFORM 2021

Data from real-world medical records:

(from 13 patients with LC-FAOD)

16 yrs old

Median age at enrollment

38% Female

15 providers / patient

7.5 years of data / patient

Data from patient-reported outcome (PRO) survey

(from 13 patients with LC-FAOD)

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However, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the appropriate amount of protein for your individual needs. In general, a diet with moderate protein intake (about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day) is recommended for people with kidney diseases.

Learn more about contributing to IgAN research with PicnicHealth. 

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