Electronic Health Records: Don't Get Sick Without One

Sep 12, 2010 | Susan Brissette | Best of Best
Electronic Health Records: Don't Get Sick Without One

image by: Intel Free Press

Storing and retrieving your health and medical information couldn't be easier. And you can carry it with you anywhere you go. Here's our picks for the EHR that may work for you!

Electronic health records (EHRs) started as a way for doctors to organize their records, make ordering more convenient, reduce repetitive tasks, reduce errors caused by bad writing and so on. However, the physician side of EHRs has been somewhat slow to catch on because of the huge barriers to entry, such as converting existing records, changing the way documentation gets done and the cost of implementing a comprehensive system. Recent government financial incentives are, however, boosting acceptance of the MD office-based electronic medical record.

On the consumer side, some of the same issues have hindered large scale adoption of EHRs. First of all, it takes a long time to input  the information and secondly, the record is only useful if it is kept up to date, placing a lot of pressure on people to manage the information correctly. Furthermore many people simply aren’t that comfortable handling medical information.  However, as technology has improved, especially with mobile applications that make it easy for the user to retreive and enter data, the use and value of EHRs for consumers has grown.

Most families keep some kind of health records, even if it’s just copies of medical reports, a vaccination record or claims documents. Unfortunately, that kind of record keeping isn’t all that helpful when you’re in a doctor’s office and you can’t remember when you got your last tetanus shot or when you get home from a visit you realize that you wanted to ask about a strange symptom that developed after you started on your new prescription.

Storing information electronically can improve accuracy, provide information where you need it, when you need it and allow you to analyze yours or your family’s health, e.g., reviewing a chart of blood pressure readings or weights. Utilizing an electronic health record can do all of that for you and much, much more. But how do you choose a record keeping system to use? 

HealthWorldNet.com moseyed out onto the Internet and reviewed more than thirty personal health record systems, comparing features, ease of use and integration opportunities. Frankly, we think that there’s still quite a long way to go in this area and none of the record keeping systems do everything that we’d like. But, there are some excellent programs out there; systems that will help you maintain your health information well, be able to access it when you need it and give you insights into your health.

So, here's the EHRs we like the most and why.

Microsoft has made a huge investment in their personal health record program and it shows. Their system offers an extensive recordkeeping system, the opportunity to create family records and links to many other applications that enhance the value of the information you provide. Through Health Vault’s  “ecosystem” of connected, patient-friendly applications, you can store copies of your health records obtained from different sources; upload information from health and fitness devices; provide  information to your doctor, coach or therapist; and access products and services. We think that Microsoft is leading the pack in this area. 

We love the device integration, the tab that gives you a history of the changes that have been made and the tab that allows you to select who you will share information with. However, Microsoft is so busy promoting its affiliates that it can be hard to figure out how you as an individual user can enter data. They also use some overly technical language such as “continuity of care” documents that are quite confusing.  Interestingly, there’s no real emphasis on prevention tools and that’s a big gap, in our opinion. They also need a crumb trail; we thought we saw some prevention management tools at one point, but could never find our way back to the same page!

Health Minder
This is a great personal health record system! It’s very comprehensive, covering not just the basics but includes medical expense and claims tracking, pet medical history, family history, smoking, exercise, lifestyle issues, observations (so you can make a note when you experience something different and track what you are worried about) , reminders, job related risks, environmental issues and more. The system is very easy to use. It does not have the linking and expanded apps opportunities available through the biggies such as Google and Microsoft but it’s more comprehensive and easier to use. Apparently other organizations agree because it’s won quite a few awards. It costs $35 annually to participate. 

My HealtheVet
The VA really got it right with this online personal health record for vets. This well designed system not only includes all of the usual health tracking options, vets can also refill prescriptions electronically, access benefit information and do research on their conditions through links with other medical information sites.   

Health Manager
This offering from the Mayo Clinic works with Microsoft Health Vault, using its health history database. The program gives you advice from Mayo Clinic experts when you need it. Recommendations are created just for you and updated in response to your health information. The more complete your profile, the more tailored your recommendations become, making it easier for you to proactively maintain your health. This is a great marriage of Microsoft’s database function and Mayo Clinic’s diagnostic expertise. You basically give permission for the Mayo Clinic to access your Health Vault data in order to receive the benefits. 

Access My Records.com
This EHR takes a somewhat different approach. Their system is designed to collect information that can be used in an emergency or in a doctor’s office. The scope of information is much greater. You are able to upload documents such as your will or trust, passport, driver's license, birth certificate, transcripts, homeowners, automobile and life insurance policies, real estate closing documents, and more. You are issued a card that gives EMS or other helpers the ability to access a website to get personal identification photo, emergency contacts, family physicians, allergies and medications, medical conditions, past surgeries, healthcare insurance providers, healthcare power of attorney and living wills or the option to call an 800 number for the same info.  

There are a number of these kinds of offerings including those that put info on a microchip in a bracelet or on a memory stick that you wear around your neck.  We thought this group was unusual and interesting in that it added proxies and other information that can be very relevant in an emergency situation. The service costs $30 per individual; $50 per couple; add children at $20 each. 

Global Patient Record
This EHR provides another worthwhile service. In addition to the usual health information, this service also provides a central location for all legal information, such as living will, power of attorney and Do Not Resuscitate information, emergency contacts information, reminders of future check-ups based upon your age, gender and medical history and is also available as a mobile application. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the demo to work and the site makes it a bit difficult to know how to sign up online. $4.99/month. 

This is one of several EHRs that eliminates the problem of getting all that information loaded into the database. You can add your own info or pay to have the service add the information for you. A MediConnect Retrieval Specialist will retrieve records and then summarize for you ($29.95 per medical record request, $39.95 per image request).  Each condition you identify can be explained through a rather comprehensive encyclopedia of information. This record keeping system is very comprehensive and interactive, including prescription reminders, health savings calculator, health education, and links with Microsoft health vault. Sign up is free but retrieval services can be expensive. 

This EHR is fairly comprehensive as well with the addition of automatic risk assessments. We liked the way this system handled information but found that it is very standalone with no integration with any other applications. $29.95/year. 

This free system looked good but we couldn’t access the demo so we couldn’t test it very well.  The EHR stores lists of medications, supplements, allergies, emergency contacts, immunizations, personal and family history, procedures and surgeries and emergency contacts. You receive a card that allows MDs or EMTs to access files from your cell phone.  

My Health Diary
This EHR is actually dedicated to issues related to blood such as donations and AIDS. And it has a very nice personal health record system. You can create charts of your clinical investigations including blood pressure readings, blood sugar readings, all types of clinical tests, treatments, diagnosis and medical images with the ability to access reports & data online from anywhere seamlessly. There are some excellent health calculators available here as well. It’s an interesting product with a lot of information but doesn’t seem well integrated.  

The Bottom Line

You can gain a lot of insight into your health by using an EHR and remain in better control of your information as well. Plus you can't use the excuse anymore that you left your records at home. Don't get sick without one!

Published September 12, 2010, updated July 31, 2012

Susan M. Brissette brings 30 years of experience in healthcare, ranging from positions as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer in the acute care hospital setting to Senior Executive for a major national healthcare management company. Ms. Brissette holds a BS in Biology from Northeastern University and an MS in Health Policy & Management from the Harvard School of Public Health. She has lectured on healthcare management at the University of Massachusetts, developed a healthcare delivery system for a mining company in Cajamarca, Peru, and recently led the Afghanistan Public Health Redevelopment Task Force for the Washington Harvard Alumni Group. She has consulted on healthcare projects in Poland, Romania, Israel, Kuwait, Peru, Canada, and Mexico. She now owns and operates SB Cass Associates, a healthcare consulting firm located in upstate New York. Ms. Brissette’s consulting practice handles client projects ranging from business plan development for clinics, assisted living facilities, and clinical research groups to the development of market research reports for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. She has written dozens of healthcare articles published on the internet and in national professional and consumer journals. She has also authored or edited online courses on HIPAA compliance, corporate security, childhood obesity, and business ethics.

Susan Brissette can be reached at SB Cass Associates [email protected]

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