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Joe Stuteville
School of Informatics

Last modified: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Consumers can write their own Rx for keeping accurate health records

Oct. 31, 2006

Ruth Walker

Ruth Walker

INDIANAPOLIS -- As more Americans are eating better, exercising more and taking steps to improve their overall lifestyles, it's vital that they also maintain up-to-date accurate personal health records.

That's the advice Ruth Walker wants to share with all Hoosier adults. Walker, an instructor with the Health Information Administration Program at the School of Informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is leading a statewide initiative to encourage people to develop and maintain their health histories and records.

"We keep records of other aspects of our lives such as finances, travel, home maintenance -- you name it -- but we often neglect to take that kind of interest in our health and those we care for," said Walker, who also coordinates education activities for the Indiana Health Information Management Association. "A personal health record can help reduce duplicate tests and may allow you to receive safer and more effective treatments. Equally important, it helps you take a more active role in your health-care management."

A survey conducted by the Markle Foundation in coordination with Harris Interactive reports that 42 percent of U.S. adults keep some form of a personal health record -- but usually the information is related to medical billing. The same report reveals that 84 percent of those who don't keep records believe it would be a good idea.

The American Health Information Management Association recommends personal health records include information such as a person's full name, address and contacts (family and medical), blood type, allergies, prescribed medications, immunizations, exercise regimen, dietary supplements, medical procedures, diagnostic test results and surgeries. Record-keepers also should include personal observations about their general health and other relevant anecdotal material.

Certainly, computers and the Internet are important tools in creating a personal health record and there are many online services available. To get started, Walker suggests that a patient go the AHIMA website, which gives users a step-by-step process to create their own records and other helpful tips. The user should complete the forms with as much information as possible, download the forms and then review it with their doctor.

"Medical histories and information are found in doctors' offices, hospitals and with other health-care providers," Walker said. "A personal health record brings most, if not all, of that information into what perhaps is the most important place -- a person's own hands."

A personal health record also is a boon for medical professionals. For example, a family doctor might not be aware that her patient has sought treatment from, say, a dermatologist or another specialist. Such information also should be recorded by the primary caregiver.

There's another good reason to have a personal health record handy -- a grim example is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Countless paper and electronic medical documents and records were destroyed or lost in the storm.

Getting the message out to all Hoosiers is Walker's immediate goal. Earlier this year, Walker began training others to meet with community, civic, faith groups and other organizations to show the benefits and how individuals can develop personal health records.

For more information about the PHR initiative or to arrange for a presentation, contact Walker at 317-278-8592 or

More information about the School of Informatics Health Information Administration program at IUPUI is at