With online banking and shopping having become mainstream activities, some people are now looking to manage their medical care via computer. A number of companies offer personal health record (PHR) services directly to consumers. (Some insurers and medical plans are offering PHRs to their clients and patients, too.)
Consider how you would use a PHR -- for quick access to your entire medical history, to assist in self-care and communication with physicians or compare drug costs based on your insurance coverage -- and choose accordingly. If you're skittish about putting your entire medical history into a PHR, limit the information -- possibly to medications or allergies -- that a provider can access.
Ask how your information will be stored and accessed. The PHR company will no doubt tell you the information is secure, but ask for details, especially if you're comparing various services. Ask questions such as: What happens if the system is hacked? Alternative options may be available for storing your data.
Unless specified otherwise, all PHR products listed below are Web-based and password-protected; all let users upload and input a wide variety of personal health information.
The firm describes its PHR product as a "medical Quicken." It does not store data on the Web; it allows storage on personal computers and transfer via USB flash-drive technology (a mini hard drive that works with most newer computers) or CD. $44.95 for CD or $74.95 for HealthKey, the flash drive.
This PHR pioneer offers one of the more affordable and easy-to-use services. The product includes an e-mail account and printable emergency card with photo. $24.95/year for an individual, $65/year for family.
This newcomer features staffers whose medical and technology backgrounds equip them to help customers set up and maintain their records. $8/month for individuals and $25/month for a family of four.
Vital Vault www.vitalvault.com
This PHR provides confidential e-mail, fax or electronic transfer of files. $60/year.
This mega-site's Health Manager PHR provides customized health news, information and tools based on subscriber information. Users can compare drug costs based on their insurance coverage and translate medical codes into plain language. Cost: $29.95/year after a free six-month trial.
-- Christopher J. Gearon