Healthcare News & Insights


Personal Health Records (PHR)

It’s common knowledge for patients that keeping track of their own medical history and that of their immediate families is very important to maintaining a healthy life, and many have some sort of personal health record (PHR) that helps do just that. And, with the advent of medical technology to those outside of the physician’s office, maintaining a PHR has become easier than ever.

Health records: Not Just the Responsibility of the Physician’s Office Anymore
While it used to be the norm to rely on a physician’s office to update and maintain all health records, it is becoming more and more popular for the patients themselves to have their own personal records to refer to as needed in addition to the records kept on file at their doctor’s office. Many patients are taking a proactive step in maintaining their health and are taking on the responsibility of keeping track of their own medical histories. The physicians and caretakers who recognize this can help a patient choose which method of record-keeping is best for them as well as what information should be included.

A PHR should have a record of any and all medical information pertaining to an individual – from lab reports, lists of surgeries, medical allergies, immunization records and more, and should be updated regularly. Though many doctors and physicians today use technology like EMR and EHR to organize patient information, they are also encouraging patients to keep their own personal account of their medical lives through the use of PHRs.

Electronic PHR and HIPAA

Not unlike many of the other electronic health technologies that have become more widely used in the past few years, there are many concerns about privacy and confidentiality with PHR.

Some PHRs that are issued directly through healthcare providers and health plans, and are covered by the HIPAA law, protecting the information stored inside of them. These PHRs are called “HIPAA covered entities”.

Any other type of PHR that is kept individually, offered by an employer, or purchased through an independent provider is usually not covered, and it is the privacy laws established by the vendor and any other laws that protect the information stored that takes precedence, even if the product is “HIPAA compliant”.


While there are some areas of overlap between electronic medical and health records and personal health records, there are some differences that must be understood. Personal health records are just that: personal. They are only held and updated by the patient for personal use and reference. Electronic health records and electronic medical records are maintained by medical providers, and in addition to containing a patient’s past and current medical information, they also contain important insurance and billing information, as well as physician’s notes and comments.

Types of PHR

There are three main types of personal health records in use today.

  1. Paper-based: Some patients find it easier to keep a paper file of all of their documents and input details and comments about visits or medical conditions by hand. For others, the convenience of not having to own or access a computer helps to reduce costs and any stresses involved in learning to use new technologies or software. Some downsides to using a paper-based system is that they may be difficult to locate and share with others, and they are subject to physical loss and damage caused by a fire or flood.
  2. Web-based/Cloud Computing: This platform makes it easy to share information over many devices that can access the Internet. With today’s increased use of smart phones and tablets, this is a popular option for many patients that want to access their information quickly at any time or place. The convenience of having the information readily available for personal reference or when visiting other doctors or specialists makes this an attractive option.
  3. Electronic-based: Many of today’s PHR software can be installed and used by individuals on their personal computers. Almost all of these software systems have the ability to be backed up and secured with data encryption and passwords to patients’ information safe, and the information can also be copied and printed right from the source. Just like the paper-based solution, PHR software systems installed on electronics are subject to damage or loss of information.

Though many of today’s physicians hold extensive reports and files pertaining to their patient’s health, they should also encourage patients to keep their own personal records updated. Today’s technology allows for easy maintenance and integration across many devices, and can help patients stay on top of their health.