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Health Care & Insurance

Manage Your Health Records Online

An increasing number of digital tools let patients take charge of their medical records.


Doctors and hospitals traditionally have been the gatekeepers of patients' medical records. That's changing as a growing number of digital tools place these records at consumers' fingertips.

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Patients can now view their medical records, download them to a computer or mobile device, and organize key information such as allergies and drug side effects. They also can use these tools to transmit the data to doctors or caregivers.

One such tool already allows Medicare beneficiaries, veterans and other groups to electronically access their medical records. The federal government in September will launch a national campaign to raise consumer awareness of this "Blue Button" tool, developed in partnership with the health care industry.

Tech companies, meanwhile, are racing to develop apps and online storage systems. Apple, for example, in early June announced that a new Health app would be part of its next operating system. The app's features include an emergency medical card listing medical conditions, allergies and other key information.


But as patients take charge of their records—and become responsible for safeguarding them—the "risks are very real," says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, which promotes online privacy. If a thief obtains your insurance information and seeks drugs or treatments under your name, for example, he could wreak havoc on your own medical care and credit report.

Still, health policy experts see the benefits outweighing the risks. "When people have access to their own personal health information, they're inclined to be more engaged in their care," says Joyce Dubow, principal for health policy and strategy at AARP.

Indeed, patients who manage their medical records electronically can help spot potentially dangerous errors. For example, if one of your drugs is inadvertently missing from your record, you run the risk of a doctor prescribing a drug that could interact adversely with it. Much medical harm "can be prevented if the patient or family caregiver has a look at that information," says Dr. Bettina Experton, chief executive officer of Humetrix, developer of an app that works with Blue Button.

Press the Blue Button


Patients can start to access records electronically by looking for the Blue Button logo. Visit to search for hospitals, labs, pharmacies and insurers that offer access to records through Blue Button. Medicare beneficiaries can create an account at to review records and select Blue Button to download information.

Humetrix’s iBlueButton app (, launched in 2012, helps users manage and share medical records directly from a smart phone. The app organizes your information into sections for medications, conditions, allergies and immunizations.

When visiting a doctor who uses a companion Humetrix app designed for medical professionals, patients can transmit records to the doctor's iPad. Likewise, doctors can use the app to transmit to patients visit summaries, wound-care instructions or other information. The consumer app, which costs $9.99, is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

Microsoft HealthVault ( also helps organize and share your medical records while connecting with health and fitness apps and devices such as blood pressure monitors. The free service stores records on secure servers, so users can access the information from any device with an Internet connection.


Both iBlueButton and HealthVault are highly secure tools for managing electronic medical records, Hall says. But he warns that the push toward electronic medical records may spawn startup companies offering apps that are less secure. Read the privacy policy before downloading any app, paying particular attention to whether the company might share your data with third parties or use it to generate targeted advertisements -- a warning sign that your information "can be very promiscuously shared," Hall says.