Doctor's appointments. Specialist visits. Prescriptions. Hospital procedures. Vaccination records. Urgent care trips. If you're like most people, you juggle multiple healthcare providers and health concerns simultaneously. Keeping all of that information organized and secure isn't only challenging, it can also be the difference between top notch and only so-so care. To help streamline information and keep it all in one secure, accessible location, many Americans are turning to personal health records.
Your doctor or hospital may already be using electronic health records, but personal health records are slightly different. Electronic health records are owned and operated by healthcare providers, typically the doctor's office or hospital that inputs your data into the records. You might be able to access and view your information, but you'll typically have to coordinate that access with the healthcare provider.
With a personal health record, the key word is personal. As the patient, you're in charge of managing these digital health records. You can include information from all sorts of healthcare providers and pharmacies, and you can even make notes directly into the personal health record yourself. That makes it easy to track things like dietary changes or at-home care protocols. For instance: When did you start cutting dairy out of your diet? And how many days a week are you managing to get to the gym?
Yet the benefits of a personal health record extend far beyond the control you'll have in updating and managing a profile. Consider these top reasons patients are climbing into the driver's seat and starting a personal health record today:
"With a personal health record, you can present a complete picture of your health with minimal effort."
1. Helps you coordinate your care
You might not remember the last time you visited a doctor that wasn't your primary care physician, but think about this: As Americans become more mobile and moves become more commonplace, it's increasingly likely that you'll switch doctors at some point in the future. When you factor in major life events, like visiting an obstetrician for a pregnancy or a specialist for a health condition, the odds are even greater that you'll be managing multiple doctors. The average patient will see more than 18 doctors over the course of a lifetime, according to a survey by GfK Roper.
There's a reason almost every new doctor requires you to fill out an extensive medical history: Coordinating access to your health information between doctors offices can be tricky. Historically, that meant seeing a new doctor required requesting a copy of your records or trying to remember the ins and outs of your care by memory. With a personal health record, that process is infinitely simpler. You have access to all of that health information at your fingertips, so you can present a full and complete picture of your health with minimal effort.
2. Decreases medical errors
Managing information from various doctors and healthcare providers isn't just easier; it can also mean the quality of your care improves. Studies show that 400,000 Americans die every year because of medical errors, including 80,000 because doctors don't have in hand the information they need, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal.
Even if a medical error isn't life threatening, it can significantly hamper how quickly you heal from a procedure or how well you manage a course of treatment. And when your healthcare information isn't in one easily accessible location, it's more likely that you'll have to repeat procedures and tests as various doctors try to gain access to the same information. Getting a repeat MRI or chest scan, for instance, is a waste of your time, a waste of your money and a major inconvenience.
By having all of your healthcare information in one easily accessible location, you'll be able to answer questions from your healthcare provider with ease and can help weed out duplicate tests and procedures or even help spot dangerous oversights.
3. Gives you instant access in an emergency
Calling your doctor's office or local pharmacy is easy enough during the week. But how would you get your health information while traveling abroad? How could you look up your prescriptions if you find yourself in an emergency room in the middle of the night on a weekend? An online personal health record is the best way to guarantee that you'll always have access to all of your health information no matter where you are or what time you need it.
"Minutes can make a life-or-death difference in the emergency room."
For a study in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, researchers surveyed both patients and physicians in an emergency room to assess their opinions of personal health records. The researchers found that 83 percent of emergency department providers wanted to access the personal health record of a patient, and that figure increased as the severity of the patient's illness increased. Emergency department physicians rated speed of access as the main motivator in wanting patients to adopt personal health records. That's no surprise, considering that minutes can make a life-or-death difference in the emergency room.
4. Makes follow-through easier
It's a common scenario: You jot down a note while chatting with your doctor or try to remember exactly what he recommends, only to get home and have those instructions feel like a blur. A personal health record can help take the guesswork out of following up on your doctor's recommendations and guidelines. That's because a personal health record is a central place to store everything from health-related goals and planned progress to physician instructions and protocols.
Having that information on hand makes double-checking instructions a breeze and increases the likelihood that you can follow the doctor's orders precisely. Many personal health records also allow you to upload and analyze data from home-monitoring devices, such an internet-enabled scale or a blood glucose meter. Being able to analyze that data alongside the progress goals set by your physicians can raise a red flag early if you're missing crucial milestones and need to schedule a follow-up appointment earlier than expected. It also means that when you return to your doctor's office, you'll be armed with precise data on exactly how well you followed the protocols and the impact it had on your health. That minimizes the guesswork and means you and your doctor can work together to find a plan that will give you the best quality of health possible.