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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Vital Signs: Maintaining Your Family's Medical Records--Part 2 (Digital)

Paper Doll is a sci-fi geek. I still remember being disappointed that visits to my pediatrician weren't as high-tech as what I'd seen on Star Trek.  Dr. McCoy might have the patient hop up on the bed (covered only in that thin, shiny blanket), and the bed was able to transmit all the essential medical data to the little computer readout right above the patient.    That tricorder electronically captured vital signs without ever invading the body.  Even the hypo-sprays were painless. 

Last week, we discussed the essential information we should collect to create our own binders of portable and in-depth medical records and reviewed a few commercial offerings for building our own personal medical records database.

Keeping your papers all in one place certainly provides security, but I know many of you prefer a space-age technological answer--bypassing paper clutter altogether.  There are three general options for storing you medical information digitally:

  • On your own computer, using a commercial or open-source template or recording information in your own preferred format--This format can then be printed, emailed, saved to a flash drive or uploaded to an online vault.
  • On a flash drive, using pre-created software, or by saving your own files.
  • Online, using a paid or free online medical records service or tool for retrieval from any location with internet access.
Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, ease of use, ease of access and flexibility:

On Your Own Computer

This is the simplest and least expensive option, allowing full flexibility in recording the information you think is important.  Review last week's low-tech, low-cost solution and simply use any software you own (e.g., Microsoft Excel, Word, etc.), open-source software (like OpenOffice.org) or a free "cloud computing" option (like Google Docs) to record the basic personal, medical and legal data, as we discussed.  (You can also find downloadable forms Word-compatible forms online, such as the 15-page offering at MyPHR.com (about which you can read more, at the end of this post).

Simply type whatever medical or insurance data needs to be saved, using last week's post as a guideline.  Personally, Paper Doll prefers using Excel or a similar spreadsheet format.  Excel workbooks allow you to separate categories (general information, insurance, medical history, allergies, contact info, etc.) on separate worksheets within the workbook, and the entire workbook can be easily password-protected.

Next, print two updated copies (periodically, after you've made revisions), one for yourself and one for your emergency contact; this way, you can maintain a copy digitally on your computer and still make the data portable in a notebook or three-ring binder. 

Additionally, you can save the data to a flash drive and use a label maker or marker to note that it contains information to be used in a medical emergency.  However, please note that most emergency medical providers and many emergency rooms, hospitals and even doctors' offices might lack access to compatible software or the internet.

If you're concerned that you might forget to enter some data, there are numerous programs for capturing all essential medical data, including MyMedTracks, sold at www.OnlineOrganizing.com, and ProfileMD Classic, a downloadable shareware program.

Medical Record Flash Drives

MedicTag is an oldie in the world of medical records kept on USB or flash drives.  It is simply a flash drive with a Microsoft Word-compatible form (Windows-only, with no Mac or Linux compatibility) that allows you to record the data about which the system asks.  There's a high-priority section for listing medical conditions, and sections for listing emergency contacts, physicians, insurance data, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications (name, dosage and frequency), allergies and other medical conditions, and surgical history.  Users are advised to wear the MedicTag on a lanyard, or one could keep it on a keyring or in one's bag.

Paper Doll thinks that a pre-created form like MedicTag might be satisfactory for someone lacking the basic computer skills needed to create a do-it-yourself version, but at approximately $40, I believe there are better options for the typical computer-savvy or web-savvy user.

MedIDs' MedFlash (1 GB) and MedCharm (2 GB) are two alternatives that could allow for more complete medical storage.  Designed to be worn or at least visible in case of emergency, both store all user-entered information in the (seriously old-school) ASCII text format, but also allow for uploading of digitally-transmitted X-rays, EKGs, MRI or other imaging results, etc.

Again, this is a matter of spending money for a form and USB flash drive, when that money might be better spent on either actual health care or a more in-depth records service.

Online Services

MedicAlert's Personal Health Record
You probably know the MedicAlert brand from the bracelets worn by many people with chronic conditions.  The company has branched out into a comprehensive set of services, which include:
  • secure online access to a personal health summary, which includes your medical profile (diagnoses and conditions), allergy information, medication names and dosages
  • log of medical device information, including the manufacturer, model and serial number of any medical devices you may use or have installed)
  • notification of family members (listed in your record) of an emergency
Update your information online or by calling into the MedicAlert service, and MedicAlert's service is 24/7/365, with medical personnel able to relay your medical history to doctors or emergency personnel without anyone having to log into a computer.

MedicAlert also has a deluxe Gold service where you and your doctors can both contribute to your record.  MedicAlert creates an account in the Document Center and gives you a "DC" number that can receive both fax and voice messages. Once you authorize your health care provider to give MedicAlert your information (just like when you authorize one doctor to share your information with another), and then they can send your medical records, images, test results, and other essential data directly to your account.  All the records, whether sent by your or your health care profession, are translated into PDFs for easy viewing on the computer.

MedicAlert has extra levels of service (at extra levels of cost) that can make it more appealing for those who prefer dictating to typing and prefer knowing that someone else is taking care of the details.

Medsfile helps you create your own secure personal health record simply by typing in basic patient information, including name and contact information, but also birthdate, height and weight, and organ donor status.  The sections for listing medical conditions, procedures, surgeries, immunizations and family history is a little bare bones--Paper Doll would have preferred a template for easily providing dates. Medsfile does have some detailed template attributes that surpass those on the flash drive template forms, including:

--An insurance section to track each primary and secondary insurer's name, toll-free phone number, subscriber name, policy/group/member information, and more.  This section could be improved if it linked interactively with an insurance company's online patient file.

--A medications section that not only lists prescription names, dosages, frequency and dates taken, but also breaks out the list into two categories:  medications taken currently and medications no longer taken.  Medications can be sorted by name, dates taken or purpose.

--A supplements section lists vitamins, minerals, herbs, and dietary supplements, also broken down by current and former usages.

--An allergy section that indicates allergy type, reaction and provides space for additional comments.

--A detailed emergency contacts section that also has a space for other notes, so if your emergency contact is best reached via Twitter or Facebook, or can only be reached during work hours by calling a supervisor, that can be listed as well.

--A pharmacy section with spaces for pharmacy and contact name, phone and fax numbers, web site and additional information.

--An online medical diary for tracking your symptoms and how you feel.

Patients can access their own health information by logging in, or they can grant access to others (friends or family, medical staffers, etc.) by providing their member card.  Medsfile has added a (small) extra layer of security in the form of a security question, so that others can gain access to essential medical information but not personal or financial information.  However, emergency medical providers probably won't have internet access, and if hospital wi-fi services are down, or (as was my situation) the emergency room receives no cellular service, this option might be useless in an emergency situation.

Medsfile is available at no cost, making it more appealing for the user to try.

GoogleHealth is also free, and thus far is Paper Doll's favorite non-DIY option because it makes everything so much easier.  Once you enter some very basic information (date of birth, gender, ethnicity, blood type, weight and height), the system lets you:

--Create your own profile:  Each category (conditions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results and immunizations) allows you to either manually type a response or select from a ridiculously and wonderfully long list of possibilities.  This is especially helpful if the proper name for a condition or drug is difficult to spell or remember exactly.

--Import medical records from various personal insurance records and pharmacies to get automatic updates of your health data.

--Have Google point out possible adverse drug interactions based on the information you input.

--Record physicians' contact information (and help you search for doctors by name, location or specialty).

--Grant or restrict access to your records.

Because GoogleHealth is currently in beta, we can probably expect future advances, including a section for insurance information, a place to track medical billing and a way to upload digital records from providers not associated with the program. 

Of course, the standard security concerns apply to all data stored on the web.

Finally, these are only a smattering of the options for creating a digital personal health record.  For a more complete list, visit MyPHR.com, operated by the American Health Management Information Association.  Search the database of personal health record options:
  • First, choose your format:  internet service, software or paper based
  • Then, consider cost.  Select whether you want to purchase your solution or get it for free.
Whatever option you choose, schedule time on your calendar (at least quarterly) to review and update your records.  After all, your life could depend on it!

posted on: 3/24/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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