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Monday, November 19, 2012

No More Questions: Medical Health Records Enter the Digital Age

Excerpts from the October 2012, Senior Spirit newsletter

“What medications are you currently taking”? “Please list all of the operations you have had in your lifetime.” “How old were you when you had measles?” “When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?” “Are you allergic to any medications?”

Chances are that if you are 60 or older and have visited a physicians’ office, dentist, clinic or hospital in the last year, you have had the sheer joy of responding to these and/or a multitude of other personal health history questions for at least the 25th time in your life. And, unless you are extremely well organized or have a knack for remembering events or dates (or events and dates in combination), you found yourself wracking your brain or searching through pockets or purses for a dog-eared piece of paper—the same behavior you experienced last year—to come up with reasonably close-to-correct responses.

But things are changing. The next time you walk into your healthcare provider’s office, you could have all the answers to those crucial but tedious questions already in hand—on your Internet-capable communication device (smart phone, iPad, laptop, etc.). During the next few months, this column will address the rapidly emerging trends in electronic health data and how we can be more informed and better prepared consumers of healthcare services in this digital age.

Creating and Storing Personal Health Information in the Digital Age

There are two major digital systems for creating and storing personal health information: personal health records (PHR) and electronic health records (EHR).

PHR. As the name implies, a PHR is an electronic record of your entire health history—created and maintained by you. Paper forms of health history records have existed for many years, but maintaining and storing such records are fraught with problems because files can get lost, be difficult to retrieve and/or require extra storage space.

PHRs provide you with ownership of your health information and allow you to share information with multiple healthcare providers. You can create and store the records on your home computer and download them to a small storage device such as a thumb drive, or upload them to one of several websites. Many health insurance companies and medical information sites, such as WebMD and even, have PHR record-keeping options, which we will explore in more detail in a future column. A functioning model of such electronic information sharing, which patients can readily use, is the MyHealtheVet website, introduced by the U.S. Departent of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2010 (Turvey). In a survey of 18,471 PHR users in the VA system, most respondents were interested in sharing access to their electronic health information with caregivers and non-VA providers (Zulman).

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The Society of Certified Senior Advisors would love to hear from you. Are you or someone you love currently utilizing electronic health records? Please share your story with us!

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