Keeping the Record Straight

Hospitals and doctors are putting their paper records into digital form–and now you can, too. Having an electronic “personal health record” has been “a huge timesaver,” says Suzanne Mintz of Kensington, Md., who runs the National Family Caregivers Association. Her husband, Steven, has had multiple sclerosis for 33 years, but they can now provide years of his neurological and medical reports to a new doctor at the touch of a button.

An array of Internet services and software for everything from desktops to pocket PDAs and cellphones now allows you to gather your medical information from various sources and update it easily. The idea: Having that health history at your fingertips—including any medications you’re taking and the dosages, your lab results, and even your living will—makes for better, more coordinated care. It’s particularly useful, says Eric Pan, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior scientist at the Center for Information Technology Leadership, for the person “seeing an allergist, a cardiologist, and a radiologist—sometimes all in the same day.”

If storing the data at home is what you aim to do, a desktop program or an Internet-based system like the one the Mintzes use may be the answer. HealthFrame is a downloadable product available for about $40 that lets users keep track of appointments and medications; input indicators like blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol and graph them over time; and attach original documents, such as doctors’ notes and billing receipts. For $5 a month (or $8 for two people), the Internet-based Medikeeper adds access to a “MediLibrary” of information on diseases and a toll-free number that health professionals can call to access medical records in an emergency. Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it would enter the business. Users of its new online HealthVault service can upload and store their medical information free. For a fee of $9.95 a year, a HealthVault partner program called icePHR will soon make that information available to emergency medical personnel who are treating patients after accidents, say. They’ll punch in a number stored in the person’s cellphone.

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