If you’ve ever gone to a new doctor or sent your child to summer camp, you know the importance of keeping personal health information organized and handy. Today, your family members’ medical records are likely scattered across every doctor’s office you’ve visited since birth, making it hard for the physicians who treat you to stay fully up to date on your medical history, provide recommendations and offer diagnoses accordingly. But thanks to new technologies, including the emergence of online apps, keeping a log of your personal health information is easier than ever—meaning laboriously fishing for details on your medical history may soon be a thing of the past.

Improving efficiency

Lesley Kadlec, director of practice excellence at the American Health Information Management Association, an organization comprised of over 101,000 health information professionals, says there’s a lot for patients and physicians to be excited about when it comes to the future of personal health records.

“We are working toward more interoperability, so your health information would follow you to any health provider,” Kadlec explains. “That’s hopefully going to be a reality in the future, but I think having the ability to have remote health monitoring, an emergency notification system and wearable devices can all help patients be more engaged in their own health care today, and allow them to provide more information to their health care providers.”

"The biggest provider in health care isn’t the physicians but patients themselves. The patient makes decisions every day: What do I eat, do I take an aspirin, do I take a vitamin?"

Smarter today, healthier tomorrow

Such systems would similarly help physicians tailor their health advice based on patients’ conditions—say, helping a diabetes patient monitor his or her blood pressure based on their consumption of sugar or carbohydrates and their exercise regimen—and in a more timely manner. That diabetes patient could compile his or her personal health record using health and fitness apps on their smartphone or desktop, via wearable devices or even by tracking information the old-fashioned way: writing it down.

“There are multiple ways to track personal health information,” Kadlec says. “You can use a simple paper-type system where you’re writing notes down and putting them in a folder, or using an online system and keeping a record in your personal computer that you can download to a disk. It all depends on the level of involvement you have with tech, as well as what’s easiest for you to manage.”

Kadlec recommends visiting MyPHR.com, a website that allows users to search for a personal health information recording system based on criteria they enter. Those criteria can include requests like the option to download and print paper forms or to enter data online with a free or paid service.

Letting the patient take the wheel

“Patients should be excited that they’ll be partners in their health care. The biggest provider in health care isn’t the physicians but patients themselves. The patient makes decisions every day: What do I eat, do I take an aspirin, do I take a vitamin? People are going to become more engaged, and aware about options available to them for their health care—and a more engaged patient is going to result in better health overall.”

Thinking even farther ahead, Kadlec suggests that, some day, waiting around at doctor’s offices to hand off personal health records won’t even be necessary at all.

“We’re going to see more creative ways of taking care of health care outside of the traditional offices,” she says. “I think the availability of Web-based care will expand, and you’ll be able to go to your computer and type in your request, and someone will be there to answer your questions.”