I know that I had an allergic reaction to a medication when I was in college, but I don't remember the name of the drug. Most people, like me, have very little documentation of their full medical history. Since state laws require hospitals and doctors to keep inactive medical records for only seven to 10 years (depending on the state), it is almost impossible to retrieve what might be helpful, personal medical information from long ago.

But all that is changing. Recently, several major Internet companies have begun offering services that allow you to securely store your personal medical information online at no charge. With online medical records, you can easily keep track of your medical history (including such information as past illnesses and treatments, tests, surgeries, allergies and adverse reactions to drugs), the medications you take and the appointments you have. If your doctor or hospital participates, you can even transfer (download) your medical records directly from their computers to your own. By centralizing your medical history, you won't have to repeat this information every time you see a new doctor. If you want to consider putting your medical records online, here's my advice…

  • Try out the different sites. The four big players in online personal medical records, WebMD (www.webmd.com/pbr)...Google (www. google.com/health)...Microsoft (www.healtbault. com...and Revolution Health (www.revolution health.com-allow you to create your own medical record. Revolution Health (started by AOL founder Steve Case) and WebMD, which have a longer history of creating online personal medical records, are easier to use, in my opinion, and offer more options than the Google or Microsoft sites. But Google and Microsoft are moving quickly to expand their services.

Smart idea: Since all these services are free, create a short personal medical record on each site, entering data such as medications or past surgeries. I have. As the sites continue to grow, I'll choose the one I like best.

  • Take advantage of the special features. These Web sites each offer extra. For example, when you list a medication in your medical record on Revolution Health's site, it allows you to easily link to an information sheet on that drug posted by the FDA. The WebMD site lets you complete an easy-to-use personal health assessment to learn your risks for heart disease, stroke and other conditions.
  • Talk to your doctor about online medical records. If your doctor sends you to a specialist, you may be responsible for making sure that your medical records are forwarded to the new doctor. If you have an online medical record, it can be sent most anywhere on a moment's notice. Talk to your doctor about placing your medical records online. Not all physicians are sold on the idea-some like to maintain control over all of their patients' medical information, But having direct access to your own medical records can be lifesaving and reassuring.

Is Your Doctor Blogging About You?

In a recent study, 42% of blogs online journals) written by medical professionals contained descriptions of individual patients-17% included enough information for patients to identify themselves or their doctors.

Patients were portrayed negatively more often than positively...some blogs even included patients' photos.

Wise: Ask your doctors if they have blogs and how they protect patients' privacy.

Hidden Dangers of Medical Identity Theft

A thief uses your Social Security number or A insurance data to get free medical treatment-or to collect insurance money for services that were never performed.

Problem: This can cause incorrect or fictitious information about you to appear in medical databases-leading to incorrect treatment or future refusal of insurance benefits.

Thieves change the address to which claims and statements are sent, so you may not know of their actions for years.

In addition, patient privacy laws can make it harder to find out about phony information—and make doctors reluctant to change errors, for fear of liability.

Self-defense: Every year, get a copy of your medical records from all of your health-care providers and a list of benefits paid in your name by your insurer.

Question any charges or payments that you do not recognize—and contact police if you suspect fraud.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in