When I was 15 years old I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erthamatosis (Lupus). My parents and I didn’t really know or understand what Lupus was, but we knew that people died from it and that I needed to be extremely careful with my health. I remember how scared I was, along with being in extreme pain, barely able to walk. In addition I was puffy and losing my hair as a side effect of my medications. For me, the Lupus subsequently caused multiple other chronic illnesses, including Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and Depression. I remember going from doctor to doctor, getting test after test and then, one day, somehow, someone lost my entire set of medical records from birth until age 15!
In most cases, for any normal, healthy person, losing one’s medical records may not be a big deal, but in my case, it was tremendously dangerous in the midst of the beginning stages of treatment for an autoimmune disease that needed to be managed. Not to mention it was costly to my health insurance plan.
I keep track of my own personal health records and information
It was the experience of losing my medical records that taught me the importance of knowing and managing my own personal health records. My parents and I requested a copy of my medical records, knowing that we couldn’t always trust that our paper records could be found. As part of that, we kept our own records of my doctor appointments, tests, and medication.
Now, as an independent adult, I take even more control over my own medical records. In addition to wearing a medical alert bracelet, I keep a Medical Emergency Information sheet in my wallet that includes my:
Date of Birth;
Emergency contact names and numbers;
Medical power authorization;
A list of allergies and my reactions;
A list of all my diagnosed medical conditions;
A list of all my doctors and their phone numbers;
A list of all my medication and the prescribing doctor; and
This was a key step to managing my health information and ensuring that in case of a medical emergency I am able to provide all of the necessary information to those medical personnel treating me. However, this long list also requires a lot of after-the-fact follow-up on my part and re-printing of the paper I keep in my wallet. Given the regularity that I see some doctors this can become quite burdensome.
I manage my care with a Personal Health Record
Thanks to technology, I am now able to manage and control all of this information and more through my personal health record (PHR). I use Microsoft’s Health Vault because I am able to link it to my iTriage account. Both of these products are available as free apps on my iPhone (and are available for Android phones as well). Like many people, I am almost lost without my smartphone. While that may be a bad thing in some regards, in others it is a positive.
For example, after my last doctor’s appointment my Personal Health Record allowed me to:
Log in the visit encounter
Upload the care summary information the doctor printed for me
Update my medication list, and
Note that I had to visit the lab for blood tests.
I also use my health plan’s patient portal
I am also privileged because my health plan (Kaiser) provides their members with patient portals. Through the portal, I can:
View all of my lab results
See my medication list
Sign up for medication refill reminders and refill my mail-order prescriptions online, and
Communicate directly with my doctors through a secure direct message
Most importantly, I never have to worry about losing my paper medical records and having no information about me and my medical history ever again.
Patient portals and Personal Health Records are such vital components of helping me manage my health and make sure that my medical team has all of the most up-to-date information they need to treat me—especially in the case of a medical emergency where I may be unable to communicate my conditions and lists of medications and allergies. By taking control of my personal health records, I have taken back my life.
My Personal Health Record has improved my health
I have now been living with Lupus for more than half my life and am healthier than I have ever been. While I may suffer from pain and still have certain physical limitations, I consider myself extremely fortunate knowing that I could be in a more debilitated state, unable to work or even walk. I can attest to the fact that Personal Health Records can improve health outcomes and save lives.
Even someone who is “healthy” should take control of their own health with a personal health record. I would encourage everyone to download their own Personal Health Record today and engage your physician in a conversation about how you can work together to manage your health at your next doctor’s visit. It’s good for you and it’s good for them.