More and more of our personal health information is going online.  The numbers are staggering — nearly 17 million Americans are accessing their health care information monthly on mobile devices (see Ann Tracy Mueller’s post at http://healthcarecommunication.com/Main/Articles/Almost_17_million_Americans_access_health_infomrat_8172.aspx).

And maybe you’ve been hearing about a way to manage your own health information online —using what’s known as a web-based personal health record (PHR).  This is an electronic application that can help you collect, manage and share your own health information.  There are many companies offering this kind of service.  But that also means there are lots of different features so how do you decide between and among the offerings?

Start by making sure you understand, and are comfortable with, the way a PHR company will protect the privacy and security of your health information.  Great idea, but how do you decide?

The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has developed a tool that can be a helpful starting place.  ONC developed the PHR Model Privacy Notice — it’s a standardized template for use by web-based PHR companies.  By filling it out, a company can tell potential customers  about its security and privacy practices and policies — for example, what the PHR company does with your health care information and whether they share that data (and if so, when and with what restrictions).

You’ll know if a web-based PHR company is using the ONC privacy notice template because its website home page will carry the link of “PHR Privacy Notice”.  Reading these links on various companies can begin to help you decide which, if any, of the companies you want to use.

ONC has a useful consumer’s guide that provides more in-depth information about the PHR model privacy notice and how to use it.  The guide can be found at: http://healthit.hhs.gov.  When you get to that page, go to the links on the left hand side of the page.  Hit the “Regulations and Guidance,” then hit “Privacy & Security Framework” and the “PHR Model Privacy Notice” is the 5th link.

Electronic health care coordination can be a great assist but only as long as there are strong privacy and security procedures in place.