Dr Emma Stanton, Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellow and specialist registrar at South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust, reviews Personal Health Records: a guide for clinicians by Mohammad Al-Ubaydli.

Prior to reading Personal Health Records: a guide for clinicians I was not clear exactly what a personal health record (PHR) entailed. I suspect I am not alone. PHRs are relevant for all stakeholders in health care. If intrigued by how they are relevant for you, read on.

Although written by the founder of Patients Know Best, a personal health record company, the book is fair in including comprehensive overviews of competitor personal health record platforms, including Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault. The author is a clinical academic, patient and pioneer in his field and does a grand job of explaining the ins and outs of PHRs in a non-patronising manner for the non-tech savvy.

After reading the fewer than 100 pages-long book, I now know that a PHR is a set of records that the patient controls. An electronic health record (EHR) is a set of records that the clinician controls. By comparison, a patient portal provides access to part of the EHR.

Learning from other industries, such as banking, which have improved customer service by providing access 24 hours a day through ATM machines for customers to serve themselves, PHRs mark the onset of the “participatory medicine” movement.

While health care (and health care records) continues to be delivered in silos, PHRs add value by enabling a patient to share their records with different institutions, as quoted from the text: “Sharing clinical data is important to save time, money and lives. It is essential for safe clinical practice.”

The book identifies changes in practice required of clinicians (current and future) in adopting PHRs: “..you need to write in a way that is patient-friendly, something medical schools do not teach very well.”  The book goes further in setting out a bold vision for: “At least one person in every clinical team must get involved in the discussions of online patient communities.” I have never worked in a clinical team where an individual was actively targeting involvement in such a forum.

Throughout the well written text, there are references to websites and online podcasts providing further information, many via patientsknowbest.com. While this may work well for an e-book (currently not available for this title), I found such hyperlinks less useful on paper.

The title targets this book for clinicians. Perhaps a broader church of health service managers (clinical and non-clinical) would be a preferable target, particularly those with information technology responsibility engaged in a “build or buy” dilemma. PHRs are not yet in mainstream use but early adopters including Great Ormond Street Hospital, Thalidomide Trust and Bupa, are generating momentum. The current NHS climate of financial ischaemia may work against the wider adoption of PHRs, although perhaps not against investing in this book.