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The job description of "wife and mother" typically includes responsibility for managing the health care of one and all in the household—which in my case includes me, a husband, two kids, and at least four animals. I use the term "manage" loosely, since until now it has mostly been about setting up annual physicals and reacting to basic ailments. Record keeping-wise, I wasn't doing anything. Recently, I agreed to a tetanus booster because it was easier than trying to nail down the date of my last shot. My arm hurt for days afterward, which finally provided sufficient inspiration to create a digital personal health record for each of us—something I'd been meaning to tackle for a while.
Three months into the process, I can now recite the most recent height, weight, BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure of any family member. A few keyboard taps can bring up current immunization records for people and pets. In fact, I've become a little obsessed.
Desiring a Web-based record that could be accessed from any computer or my smartphone, I narrowed my choices down to two trustworthy, big names: Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health. Both allow me to selectively share data with my husband, doctors and, eventually, my kids. And both are free. (See "Software Solutions," below, for the full rundown.)
At first I simply noted doctor visits, shots, and test results in real time. But when I noticed both tools also have a wellness component, allowing me to track weight, workouts, and sleep, I was intrigued. And that's how I got hooked on data collection.
I downloaded an app (CardioTrainer) to my Android smartphone that acts as an exercise coach and linked it to Google Health. I also picked up an Omron Pedometer ($33), which works with Microsoft HealthVault, and a Withings WiFi Body Scale ($159)—it uploads weight and BMI to both sites right from the scale. Now this data appears almost automatically.
Once up-to-date, it was time to work backward and call our doctors to ask for copies of our records, which I scanned and uploaded. As time goes on, experts say, physicians are slowly but surely converting to electronic records that should be able to be imported. "It's more than a matter of months," says George Scriban at Microsoft's Global Health Solutions group. "But we aren't talking decades either."
It's nice to know that when my kids grow up, I'll have a trove of health-related info about them and their parents. Who knows? Maybe they'll keep it up and my great-great-grandchildren will inherit a useful multigenerational legacy of detailed info. Knowledge is power.
A closer look at the two most universal, user-friendly and free(!) personal health record options.
Google Health (health.google.com) Convenient if you use Gmail or other Google tools because you would have one universal log-on. Sharing kids' profiles with a spouse is simple, and it's easy to track not only who has access to the profiles, but also who has looked at them.
Microsoft HealthVault (healthvault.com) Allows you to share selected parts of profiles, such as a single test or set of records, as well as complete individual profiles. This is the engine that runs many other online health records, including the Mayo Clinic's popular Health Manager (healthmanager.mayoclinic.com).
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.