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Personal Health Information - Keeping Tabs On Your Health In Texas

Aug 17, 2007
Your personal health information - do you know who has it or where to find it in Dallas, Houston or in the other Texas cities where you have lived? Do you have it? In most cases, a complete record of all of your personal health information can't be found at any single location or in any consistent format. Each one of your healthcare providers (family practitioner, allergist, OB-GYN, etc.) compiles a separate medical record on you. And often times, these multiple medical records can lead to an incomplete story about your health.

Keeping your own personal health record (PHR) provides doctors with valuable information that can help improve the quality of care you receive. A PHR can minimize or eliminate duplicate tests. It can also help you receive faster, safer treatment and care in an emergency. In short, with a PHR, you can play a more active role in your healthcare.

Starting a Personal Health Record

Your health information is scattered across many different providers and facilities. A Personal Health Record is a collection of this information about your health or the health of someone you are caring for, such as a parent or child that you would actively maintain and update. The information comes from your healthcare providers, and most importantly, from you.

Why Start a PHR?

Your own PHR should provide a different perspective, showing all your health-related information. It can include any information that you think might affect your health, including information that your doctor may not have, such as your exercise routines, dietary habits, or glucose levels if you are diabetic.

In addition, the PHR is a critical tool that enables you to partner with your providers. It can reduce or eliminate duplicate procedures or processes, which can save healthcare dollars, as well as your time and the provider's time.

What Should be in Your PHR?

When collecting information from your health records, make sure you include:

Personal identification, including names, birth dates, and social security numbers
Emergency contacts
Names, addresses, and phone numbers of your physician, dentist, and other specialists
Health insurance information
Living wills and advance directives
Organ donor authorization
A list and dates of significant illnesses and surgeries
Current medications and dosages
Immunizations and their dates
Important events, dates, and hereditary conditions in your family history
A recent physical examination
Opinions of specialists

Important tests results
Eye and dental records
Correspondence between you and your provider(s)
Correspondence between you and your health insurance company
Permission forms for release of information, operations, and other medical procedures
Any information you want to include about your health - such as your exercise regimen, any herbal medications you take and any counseling you may receive.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a PHR

Young, healthy people move, often frequently. Therefore you are likely to have health records scattered over all over Texas and beyond. Remember the flu last year in Dallas? And the routine exam three years ago in Houston? Keeping your own personal health record (PHR) provides new and existing doctors with valuable information that can help improve the quality of care you receive.

To start your personal health record, you will need to request a copy of your health records from all your healthcare providers, including your general practitioner, and your eye doctor, dentist, and any other specialists you have seen. Don't feel that you need to gather all your health information at the same time. One way to handle your record retrieval is to ask for your recent records each time you visit a healthcare provider.

Incorporate the following steps, at your own pace, when creating your own personal health record:

1. Contact your doctors' offices, the health information management (HIM) or the medical records staff at each facility where you have received treatment. Ask if your records are in an electronic format that you can access, or if you need to request copies. Also, ask your physician or the HIM professional to help you determine which parts of your record you need. Furthermore, find out if your provider has his or her own plan for helping patients to create their PHRs.

2. Ask for an "authorization for the release of information" form. Complete the form and return it to the facility as directed. Most facilities charge for copies. The fee should only include the cost of copying (including supplies and labor), as well as postage if you request the copy to be mailed. It can take up to 60 days to receive your medical records, so ask when you can expect to receive the information you've requested.

3. Now that you've gathered your information, there are a few different ways you can maintain your PHR. One way is to simply gather your information in a file folder. Not all information may be available to you in an electronic format, so an old-fashioned file folder or three-ring binder may be the easiest and most inclusive format. You can divide the binder into sections by family members. Then, within each family member's section, divide information by year or illness.

4. There are many great digital PHR tools and services to help you get organized. You can burn data onto a CD. Also, portable devices, like keychain USB drives that plug into most computers, will make your PHR information extremely portable. There are also Internet-based services where you can store and retrieve your health information, including services which may be sponsored by your insurance company. Some services even help collect your data from your doctors and other healthcare providers.

Some of these digital PHR tools may be available free of charge and others are products or services you will need to purchase or pay a subscription fee to use.

5. Bring your PHR to all healthcare provider visits so that you have the information with you. And remember to keep adding and updating it with entries from providers, yourself, or your family member.

6. Because you won't always have your PHR with you, create and carry a card that has vital information on it -such as medications or allergies - with you at all times.

7. Remember, this private information is yours and your family's, so protect it and maintain its confidentiality. Let trusted family members know it exists, and where it's being kept, but beyond that, keep it safe and protected.

Knowledge is power and your Personal Health Record can certainly empower you. The information gathered gives you information you can use when preparing for medical appointments. And it gives you more intimate knowledge of your healthcare, including giving you an active role in your preventive care and care management.

It's easier to start gathering your medical records while you're a young, healthy Texan compared to when you're older and have a more complex medical history. Start with your parents and work your way up to your current healthcare providers.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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