Are You Making the Most of Health Information Technology?

by karen on February 22, 2019

The fact that you’re reading this blog makes it very likely that you are more tech savvy than I am. With that being said, I’ll be devoting the next several of my weekly blogs to health technology, with the goal of helping you, as well as myself, take advantage of systems that simplify our lives and enhance our medical experiences.

As we endeavor to be healthy, it’s important to keep track of all the data we have pertaining to our health. Today’s blog is designed to give you information about one powerful tool you should be utilizing; we’ll list the top rated products to help you be informed about your health, and to enable your healthcare team to give you the very best care.

The tool I’m referring to is a personal health record (PHR). As I prepare to switch to a new primary care provider, I realize I have a PHR from years ago that I’ll update and have ready for my visit. With precious little time to get acquainted and cover everything that should be addressed in that initial visit, my PHR will really help us have a worthwhile consult.

What is a personal health record?

A personal health record is simply a collection of information about your health that is accessible anytime via smartphone, tablet, or other device.

Why do we need a PHR?

hand holding a smartphone displaying a medications list

Anytime we move, switch healthcare providers, or seek medical treatment during a vacation, we’ll be asked to provide our health history. It can be difficult to remember all of this information. Having a PHR on hand means we’ll know the answer when we’re asked questions like when our last tetanus shot was, or in what year we had knee surgery.

PHRs can also save us in an emergency situation. Consider these scenarios: if you were to experience a health emergency at work, or on a trip with friends, would your coworkers or companions be able to answer questions about your health history and current healthcare provider? Not likely. In a time of crisis, it can be difficult to remember important and potentially life-saving information—even for ourselves. A PHR can do that work for us.

PHRs also empower us to manage our health between visits. For example, a PHR enables us to:

Track and assess our health. Record and track progress toward our health goals, such as lowering cholesterol levels

Manage our health between visits. Upload and analyze data from home-monitoring devices such as a blood pressure cuff, and remind ourselves of doctor’s instructions from our last appointment.

Get organized. Track appointments, vaccinations, and preventive or screening services, such as mammograms.

What information goes into a PHR?

In general, your PHR needs to include anything that helps you and your doctors manage your health, starting with the basics:

  • Your doctors’ names and phone numbers
  • Both food and drug allergies
  • Your medications and dosages
  • Lists and dates of illnesses and surgeries
  • Chronic health problems such as high blood pressure
  • Living will or advance directives
  • Family history
  • Immunization history
  • Home tracking of blood glucose and blood pressure values
  • Health goals, such as stopping smoking or losing weight

PHRs, EHRs, and patient portals

PHRs are not the same as electronic health records (EHRs), also called electronic medical records (EMRs), which are owned and maintained by doctors’ offices, hospitals, or health insurance plans.

EHRs typically contain the same basic information you would put into a PHR; such as your date of birth, medication list, and drug allergies. But EHRs contain more extensive information because they’re used by health care providers to store visit notes, test results, and much more.

A PHR that is tied to an EHR is called a patient portal. In some cases, but not all, you can add information (such as home blood pressure readings) to your record via a patient portal. If that’s the case, you may not want to create a separate, standalone PHR.

However, you may want to consider having at least some basic information on hand in case of emergency; this includes advance directives that outline your decisions about health care, such as whether or not to use life-support machines.

Are there drawbacks to PHRs?

Building a complete health record takes some time because we have to collect and enter all of our health information. Only a minority of doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and insurance companies can send information electronically to a PHR that isn’t part of a patient portal.

In most cases, we will have to update our PHR manually each time we see the doctor, fill a new prescription, have a test, or go to the hospital.

Even if we use a patient portal, we still need to review the information that’s added to it. The process of transferring health data electronically isn’t always perfect and mistakes can happen.

Will our information be kept private?

Perhaps the most common concerns about PHRs are about privacy and security. To address these issues, reputable PHR systems follow industry best practices, such as making their privacy policies public and submitting to monitoring by independent organizations. In addition, federal laws have been put in place to protect the security of personal health information.

How do we get started?

If your primary care doctor offers a patient portal, use it. Most portals offer the following:

  • Appointment reminders
  • Medication list
  • Appointment summaries, sometimes with associated educational material
  • Secure messaging with your provider
  • Test results

Check with your health insurance company. Many offer a PHR online tool on their website. For both the patient portal and online health insurance company websites, check to make sure that information can be transferred if you need to switch doctors or insurance companies.

Which PHRs are the best?

There are many, many options when choosing a PHR. Here’s a list of our top 6 to help you get started:

  1. HealthVault Link

  2. MTBC PHR  Link

  3. CAPZULE  Link

  4. My Medical  Link

  5. healthspek_logo_tag  Link

  6. Medfusion Plus Link


I hope this information helps you put together a useful personal health record to have at your fingertips whenever needed.


Karen Fisher, MS, RD, LDN, CDE is a dietitian in Reno, Nevada, happily promoting the benefits of healthy foods at her nutrition consulting firm, Nutrition Connection. Find her website at

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