Personally Controlled Health Records (PCHRs): Excellent idea -- but understand the risks, be informed and use responsibly.

GoogleHealth and Microsoft HealthVault introduced the novel idea of a PCHR in the last two years, which allows patients to securely access, add to, and maintain, their personal health records on any computer with internet access. This was a paradigm shift – patient records are generally only accessible via specific request from the hospital or the doctor’s office where they are stored. Often, access involves a cost and only provides information specific to the request.  While concerns were voiced about data accuracy of data in the records, privacy and security and possibilities of misinterpretation of the data, among other things, a few innovative hospitals and health organizations embraced the concept and offered their patients access to their records via GoogleHealth and Microsoft Vault. The idea has caught on and personally accessible health records are now being promoted via new systems that are being created to help patients manage their health.  In Canada, the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s eHealth initiative has recently made a service called MyChart™ available to Sunnybrook patients. MyChart can contain personal and family health details, online appointment requests, online patient questionnaires, clinic visit notes, medication re-fill notes, test results, the official electronic patient health record, links to relevant diseases and personalized health information.

Last Monday (March 1) McGill University Health Centre launched, which allows anyone with Internet Access to maintain a list of personal health conditions, medications, allergies and family medical history.

This is a wonderful development. However, care must be taken to inform users not only about the benefits and the technical capabilities, but about the risks and the parameters of responsible use necessary to ensure the system is used to its maximum benefit. This cannot be stressed enough!