A Personal Health Record Review site

How to Choose a PHR – Personal Health Record System

There are a number of PHR software and service providers in the market and choosing a personal health record system that fits your needs is not going to be an easy experience. It is like buying a new personal computer – you take precautions to compare the products and check out reviews, because once you make the purchase, you will be tied with it for a long time. Same goes with electronic health record software. It stores all your personal medical records in one place and moving data from one system to another will not be easy, so you must take caution and choose the right software that fits your needs. It has to be secure, sophisticated, and reliable. PHRR

Key features of a PHR system

Even though electronic health record industry has seen abundant growth in the recent past, PHR software standards are still evolving. Definition and boundaries of PHR system vary widely depending on whom you ask, and so are the features of the PHR software you use. We have taken a simplistic approach to list the key features that you want to consider while choosing a personal health record system. The next section reviews each of the features in detail.

  1. The Basics – ability to add/delete/share/correct your current and past medical records
  2. Ability to pull medical records automatically from healthcare providers
  3. Compatibility with other health recording tools and the ability to share information with healthcare providers.
  4. PHR as a communication medium – schedule appointment, gets prescriptions etc.
  5. Tool Design and Ease of Use
  6. Proactive health monitoring and alert mechanism
  7. Security and control – to make sure your data is not compromised
  8. Cost and reliability of the software.

The Basics – Add/Delete/Correct/Share Records
These are the standard defining features of any PHR system. Almost all of the providers already provide these basic features, so you don’t need spend lot of time examining these features. You should be able to add, delete, correct and track the past medical history. PHRs must have the ability to control and share information with healthcare providers and family members, with your consent.

Ability to pull medical records automatically from healthcare providers
Your PHR would be incomplete without historical information about your health problems, prescription drugs, allergies, drugs, procedures performed etc. It is not only a laborious task to enter all those details into the system manually, but also error prone. You do not want to have inaccuracies in your records because your future healthcare providers may use this information to make major decisions about your health.

With your consent, some of the PHR providers can pull your records from your insurance providers, pharmacies and diagnostic labs. For example, Google Health can automatically pull your health records from LabCorp, Quest, Medco, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and many more healthcare service providers. This is a very valuable feature that will save time and reduce data entry errors. Some PHR systems can also pull your records from your doctor’s office.

There are some tools available to convert your paper based records into online records and then upload to your PHR. However, your PHR system must support those tools. Google Health supports few tools and service providers who will help you import you records for a fee. Make sure the system has options to automatically import records or is compatible with third party tools offering such services.

Compatibility with third party tools and other health record systems
A plethora of third party tools and mash-up services are now becoming available, which is a good thing. Such web applications provide personalized health and wellness tools, which you can use depending on your need. For example, TrainingPeaks (http://www.trainingpeaks.com/) provides monitoring, analysis and planning tools including meal plans, training plans, and the options to track activities and collect data from leading heart rate, power, and GPS devices. Microsoft’s Healthvault(http://www.healthvault.com/) PHR can share the data with TrainingPeaks, and provide the monitoring service to you, so that you do not need to use multiple tools. Similarly, Google Health(https://www.google.com/health) can work with several third party tools that can help you import your paper records into the PHR, or it can integrate your data with a heart attack risk calculator tool provided by American Heart Association (http://www.americanheart.org/)

Ability to access such personalized tools is the real power of PHR systems. Innovative tools will be continuously added to the pool and you will reap all the benefits by choosing a system that is compatible with such tools. However, you may have to pay for those third party tools although some are available for free

PHR as a communication medium
Ability to share info with healthcare providers is also important. If your chosen PHR can directly interact with the health records system deployed at your doctor’s office, you will have an added advantage. You will be able to make appointments online, share medical information both ways, consult your doctors from PHR, and obtain prescriptions without visiting doctor’s office. Call up your primary care physician’s office and find out which PHR systems they support.

Tool Design and Ease of Use
Needless to say PHR tool must be easy to use. You should be able to get familiar with the tool quickly and start using. The system should have intuitive menu navigation and quick access to most used features.

If you also want to have your health information in your handheld devices, make sure the PHR system is compatible with those devices.

Proactive Health Monitoring
Universal availability and reliability used to be the primary goals of storing electronic health records online. However, the second generation of PHR systems now provides several advanced features to help you take control of your health. You can set your health goals and measure the success, or set up monitoring and get alerts on your health conditions. Only few PHR service providers offer health monitoring services as of now. This is an area where PHR providers can get really creative and offer suite of services.
Some of proactive health monitoring features currently offered:

  1. Ability to set up health monitoring such as monitoring weight loss progress, body mass index, body cholesterol etc.
  2. Set up alerts when special health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure reach certain thresholds.
  3. Ability to research as well as detect risk factors associated with prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements. At a minimum a PHR should have medical knowledge base or a customized search engine.
  4. Health planner services to help you to learn to live a healthier, more productive life.

Please note that these are advanced features and usually offered through third party health and wellness tools that work with your PHR provider. You may have to pay for those tools.

Security and Control
PHR providers have given great importance to security features to make sure your medical information stays protected all the time, while the information is still accessible from anywhere. You do not need to worry a great deal about the security and unauthorized access issues, however, make sure you scan privacy policy statement if you have chosen to go with a less known or a relatively new PHR system.

If your data is going to be shared or sold, make sure the information is de-personalized and only aggregate data is used. If you are not comfortable with such sharing, then just do not use that system.

You should have full control to your online health records. You should be able to grant access to your friends, family or doctors if you wish.

Cost and Reliability
Some PHR systems are offered free and rest (this is a minority though) charge a small fee. Those companies offering free services need to generate income, so they resort to Ad placements, charging for advanced features, charging your employer or in some rare cases de-personalize and sell your health information to drugs companies. So, even if it appears free, make sure you understand their business model and check how your information will be used. We are not discouraging free tools. In fact, major providers such as Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault offer free and reliable services but do not sell your information. By all means, use free software services, but just make sure you understand their revenue model.

If you are using an online PHR system, it is important that you go with trusted providers, so that your data is backed up often, not compromised, and will be available all the time. If you download and install electronic health record software on your personal computer, make sure you take regular backup of your data.

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