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Personal Health Records Could Revolutionize Care for Chronic Conditions

By Jim Rowland
A personal health record can make it easier to track your care and compliance.

Here's a sobering statistic: About half of all Americans have some type of chronic health condition. Nearly 30 million people in the United States have Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that affects every aspect of day-to-day life for patients. Roughly one-third of Americans live with high cholesterol, which puts them at about twice the risk of developing heart disease as people with lower levels.

Chronic conditions aren't only unique in their pervasive, ongoing nature. They also present particular hurdles for patients looking to receive the best possible care and outcomes: You often have to coordinate care between multiple healthcare providers, including primary care doctors and specialists; you have to follow ongoing at-home care regimens and report back frequently on your compliance and concerns; and fluctuations in your health can trend in a negative direction long before they trigger an obvious red flag.

That trifecta of challenges can make it difficult for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, to really take control of their health. Yet personal health records could help combat some of the unique issues that surround chronic conditions and dramatically improve how patients and doctors interact. When researchers in Seoul studied patients with chronic conditions for 18 months, they found that those who had easy access to a personal health record were more empowered in their chronic care management, had better communication with their care providers and were more satisfied with their healthcare experience.

"Sharing health data between specialists can be a daunting, time-consuming task."

Coordinating with specialists is more straightforward
Though more hospitals and clinical practices are embracing EHRs, interoperability remains a challenge. That means getting all of your health information from your primary care doctor in order to share with your endocrinologist or heart specialist can be a daunting, time-consuming task. And if you're living with a chronic health condition, it might be a task you face on a quarterly or even monthly basis.

A personal health record allows you to gather the relevant data from each doctor's visit and input it into a system that you control. You can then bring it to your next appointment and have that information readily available for any specialists. Yet, it's not only sharing information that gets easier with a personal health record, because you have that information stored in one centralized place, you can better avoid repeat procedures and duplicate tests as multiple doctors seek out the same information. That will save you time, money and energy.

Compliance is easier (and so is proving it) 
When you're juggling a chronic condition against a backdrop of other health concerns or illnesses, it can be all too easy to let the doctor's orders slide. But a personal health record makes reviewing a doctor's prescribed care regimen as simple as tapping a few buttons. That means returning to the suggested course of care is more likely.

You're also able to input information into your personal health record, so you can track data related to your chronic condition, such as glucose levels or blood pressure readings. You can also track ancillary health data, such as activity levels, diet notes and even whether or not you were battling another sickness that day. When you return to the doctor for a follow-up visit, you'll have those levels related to your illness on hand, as well as the larger context of how your health has been since your last visit.

Keeping track of how well you're complying with the suggested care routine makes it easier on your doctor to judge whether a change of regimen should be recommended or whether there's another health-related factor at play in how well you're faring. It also means patients who tend to take an optimistic view when they're in the doctor's office can brush past overall impressions and dig into the real data of exactly how many times they were able to follow the doctor's orders and what tweaks could be made to improve compliance.

"Having access to your health data means you can more easily spot any troubling trends."

Trend spotting can happen sooner
Anyone with a chronic condition knows that there's typically a wide range of what's considered normal for many health metrics. Yet while a doctor might not raise a red flag until one of your blood levels tips outside the normal range, having access to your health data means you can more easily spot any troubling trends long before they reach the danger zone.

For Type 2 diabetes, for instance, a weight gain of even 10 pounds can impact everything from the efficacy of medication to the risk of developing sleep apnea. So while you might still be well within a healthy weight range when you hop on the scale at the doctor's office, it's worth noticing if your weight is inching up a few pounds in your personal health record. Spotting that trend might spark a conversation with your doctor about how you can curb further weight gain, what signs you should be on alert for regarding medication changes or sleep issues and how you can work to improve your health in the context of this weight gain. Speaking up about gaining, say, 4 pounds over a period of two years, is hard to do without aggregated, concrete data at your fingertips.

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by Jim Rowland

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