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Definitions: Personal Health Record versus Patient Portal

The terms "personal health record," or PHR, and "patient portal" are often used synonymously, particularly in surveys where consumers are asked about electronic connections with their care providers. For our purposes here, PHRs and patient portals are distinguished as follows:

Personal health record:

  • Is owned by the patient (or proxy for the patient)
  • May have information that is not contained in a medical record
  • Is often a stand-alone application
  • Allows for patient input of information
  • Is used for managing health information, promoting health maintenance, and assisting with chronic disease management
  • Is focused on health information, behavior change/prevention, and self-management

Patient portal:

  • Is a secure website through which patients can access a PHR
  • Often contains information from a patient's EHR
  • Is usually "tethered" to a health care organization with applications that build on an EHR
  • Enables users to complete forms online, communicate with providers, request prescription refills, review lab results, or schedule medical appointments
  • Can enhance patient access and increase administrative efficiency and productivity

For more information, see Measuring the Impact of Patient Portals: What the Literature Tells Us.

PHRs and patient portals can be viewed as a spectrum of applications that range from a stand-alone application, in which the patient enters the bulk of information, to one that is connected to a health care organization and builds on an existing EHR. Regardless of the architecture, all PHRs aim to increase patient access to personal health information in a secure fashion to enable greater patient participation in the care process.

All three PPI health centers implemented PHRs/patient portals that are tethered to their organization and offered through their EHR system vendor, which allows for patient-provider communication and display of key information from the EHR. For this reason, the technology is referred to simply as a patient portal, or portal, throughout.

Lessons from the Field