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.
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