Home Medical Records


Where are your medical records?

Probably with your doctor, as they should be. Your doctor needs your health records to track your care and provide the best treatment.

But it's also a good idea to have your own copy of these records. This is known as a personal health record, or PHR.

You'll need your health records if you change doctors, move, get sick when you're away from home, or end up in an emergency room. If any of these things happen and you have your records, you may get treatment more quickly and it will be safer.

You'll want to keep a summary of your PHR with you at all times and keep detailed information at home.

What to keep with you

If you have a summary of your health records with you, you'll get the best possible care if you get sick or have an accident. Keep personal information and current and past health information.

Personal information includes:

  • Identification, such as a driver's license.
  • Who to call in an emergency.
  • The name and phone number of your primary doctor.
  • Your insurance card.
  • Your organ donor card, if you have one.

Current health information includes:

  • Information that is needed in an emergency, such as whether you have a pacemaker or a stent, or have hearing or vision problems.
  • A list of your long-term (chronic) health problems, such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
  • A list of the medicines you are taking. Include prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary and herbal supplements, and vitamins and minerals. For each medicine, give the name of the doctor who prescribed it, why you are taking it, how much you take, and any special instructions.
  • A list of your allergies, including drug or food allergies.

Your medical history also is important. Be sure you carry a list of:

  • Major health problems you've had in the past, such as pneumonia or broken bones, or problems with alcohol or drugs.
  • Major health problems in your family, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes.
  • A history of childbirth, if you're a woman. This includes how many children you've had and any miscarriages, cesarean sections, or abortions you've had.

This seems like a lot of information to carry, but it can be one page if you write short lists rather than sentences. Keep this in your wallet or purse.

You also can keep this information on a thumb or flash drive, which is a small storage device for information stored on a computer.

What to keep at home

Having medical records for each member of your family can help you make better health decisions. Records to keep include:

  • All the information noted above.
  • An immunization record with dates of childhood immunizations. Also include boosters, flu shots, and other vaccines you've received.
  • Any health screening results, such as those for blood pressure, cholesterol, vision, and hearing.
  • Any cancer screenings, such as Pap tests, mammograms, colonoscopy, and PSA (prostate-specific antigen) tests.
  • Records of any major surgeries or times you were in the hospital.
  • Records of your hearing, vision, and dental visits.
  • A list of medicines you've used in the past.

If possible include:

  • A copy of your advance directive, including a living will and power of attorney.
  • Your pharmacy name and phone number.
  • The poison control phone number.
  • Records of insurance claims and payments.
  • Written notes from your doctors or doctor visits.
  • Anything else about your health that you think is important.

How to get started and store your medical information

Get a copy of your health records from your family doctor and anywhere you've received health care. To get started, call your family doctor and ask for your records, or wait until your next visit. Ask your doctor if he or she can help you make a personal health record. Your family doctor also may be able to help you find other places where you may have medical records, such as at a hospital. Your records may be kept in paper or electronic form.

You may need to sign an "authorization for the release of information" form. You may need to complete this form for every facility that you request records from.

You also may be asked to pay for copies of your records and the time it takes to make copies. You also may be charged for mailing fees. Always ask how long it will take to receive your copies.

After you have your information, you need to organize it. Here are some ideas:

  • Use a 3-ring binder or wire-bound notebook with dividers for each member of the family. If you get a notebook with pockets, you can keep test results and other health papers in these pockets.
  • Create a file on your computer with your information. Create the file in any software program you feel comfortable using.
  • Use software that creates a personal health record.
  • Store your health records on an Internet site. Your health plan or hospital may have one.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) sponsors an Internet site where you can search for paper-based, software-based, and Internet-based personal health records. Go to www.myphr.com/resources/phr_search.asp.


Author Caroline Rea, RN, BS, MS
Author Paul Lehnert
Editor Katy E. Magee, MA
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology
Last Updated May 1, 2008

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