You might want to poke around for information and applications that can help you manage your health in other ways, too. The PHRs offered by WebMD and Revolution Health feature a host of information that's applicable to your conditions. Apps on Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault from companies that make glucose meters, scales, and blood pressure monitors will automatically upload data from those devices to your online record. There’s a health-related app for almost everyone: You can monitor your mood swings, pick a cheaper prescription medication, track the distance of your weekend long run, get a suggestion for a birth-control method, and find a clinical trial, among other things. (Just be sure you know what access you are agreeing to give these third parties when you sign up and be sure you're OK with it, and with any cost.).
As promising as they are, PHRs aren’t without drawbacks. One issue: The quality of information that you’ll get from sources like insurers isn’t always perfect, says Christine Chang, an analyst with the market research firm Datamonitor. Your record may include misdiagnoses, or billing codes for one condition—say, one type of infertility—that was used only because there was no code for the correct type. Some PHRs allow you to delete records or annotate them to explain or disagree with them. The flip side of that is that for an online personal medical record to be useful to you and to the doctors you may want to share it with, you have to put in the man-hours to keep it current. Think of it as a work in progress instead of the final word on your health.
The biggest issue, though, is that of privacy. Analysts aren’t so worried about someone hacking into a server and stealing your data—at least, they’re no more worried about that than they are about someone hacking into a bank’s server and stealing your financial info (and many of us now swear by the convenience of online banking). Of course, you should take the standard measures to protect your info: Pick a good password, which means a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and not the same password you use everywhere else, says Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology. And be sensible. Entering information about your STD diagnosis is probably best not done while using a communal WiFi connection at the corner coffee shop.
And remember, there are plenty of other ways to manage your health records off line, from typing up and scanning records yourself and keeping them all in a computer file or USB flash drive to simply creating a paper record that includes your doctor’s contact information, medical history, health insurance information, legal directives, and other key data. Check out myPHR.com, a project of the American Health Information Management Association, which can help you find software packages and paper-based systems that will let you store your information the old-fashioned way.