For decades, doctors, hospitals, and other health care workers have kept patient records on pieces of paper filed in folders and stored on shelves. But that's changing.
More and more providers are moving to computers to store this information. And the result is a sort of alphabet soup that can be confusing: PHRs, EMRs, and EHRs.
PHR, or personal health record
Technically, any medical record you keep for yourself is a personal health record. You can keep records:
On a device (a computer or smartphone, for example).
On the Internet.
But you're most likely to hear the term PHR for records that you keep on the Internet. Your health plan's website or a local hospital's website may have programs you can use for free to do this. And your information is protected so that only people with permission can see it.
The advantage of using a website provided by your health plan is that you can type in information. For example, you can type in results of blood pressure tests you do at home. And when you see your doctor for a checkup or for treatment, he or she can see those home test results with just a few taps on the keyboard.
Quick access to information like that can help your doctor give you the best care possible.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) sponsors a website where you can search for paper-based, software-based, and Internet-based personal health record systems. Go to www.myphr.com.
EMR, or electronic medical record
Electronic medical records are electronic files that a doctor or other provider uses instead of paper files stored on shelves. The doctor types the information into a computer. Those computer files stay in your doctor's computer system.
Keeping records on a computer is a lot easier than keeping paper records. And these systems also handle scheduling and billing. Some doctors are still using paper because it's a lot of work to convert all those paper files into electronic records.
EMRs usually stay in the office computer system. They can't usually be sent to or shared with other providers outside of that system, such as a lab or hospital.
EHR, or electronic health record
EHRs are built to be shared with other health care providers who all use the same system. So with an EHR system, your family doctor can instantly send medical records to your heart specialist, your hospital, the lab, your drugstore, and your computer at home.
The goal of EHRs is to improve the coordination of your care by giving providers accurate, up-to-date information. This includes information from you, the patient.