The majority of Americans want to be able to access an online personal health record (PHR), providing them with details of their medical record.

According to a survey conducted by the US health IT research body Connecting for Health, 61% of Amercans questioned agreed with the statement: "It’s my health information. I should have access to it anywhere, anytime."

The telephone survey also found strong support for people wanting to be able to check their medical record for mistakes. Some 54% of those surveyed agreed with the statement: "Anybody can make a mistake I’d like to double-check what’s in my medical records".

In addition, a majority of respondents also said they’d like to get an automatic copy of their doctor’s notes and records after each visit. Details of the 2004 survey are carried in a report on PHRs in the current issue of American Medical News.

The concept of a life-long electronic personal health record, controlled by the individual citizen, as opposed to a medical record held by a hospital or family doctor, is central to US plans to build a national health information network within 10 years.

Under the US’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act legislation, physicians and hospitals must give full and unhindered access to medical records on request.

Key to the concept of a PHR is providing patients with the tools to assemble medical and treatment data from every doctor, or health care provider they have ever visited. By having greater control over their record it is hoped they will take greater control over their care and become more empowered.

Further benefits are anticipated from patients being able to spot and correct inaccuracies in their medical records. Doctors and other health professionals will also, with the permission of patients, gain access to a more complete health record than they would otherwise see.

Although the concept of a PHR is still evolving the Connecting for Health task force in 2003 set out a working definition that described a PHR as an Internet-based set of tools that allow patients to access and co-ordinate their lifelong health information and make appropriate parts of it available to those who need it.

A report in the current issue of American Medical News highlights a number of different approaches being taken in developing PHRs. These include commercial services such as that offered by PassportMD, which offers a medical records storage service to patients and family physicians.

Other early adopters of PHRs identified include the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a 600-doctor healthcare provider network that since 2002 has offered patients access to their information through a secure healthcare portal.

More ambitious are the plans of Kaiser Permanente, which plans "to make parts of its patient’s information available to members through a secure website built into its Electronic Medical Record," says the AMN report. Information to be provided will include "lab results, medical problems and medications, and review instructions from physicians from physicians and care teams".

Citizen-accessible personal electronic care records are also meant to form a key feature of England’s NHS National Programme for IT. With NHS Direct Online’s MyHealthSpace, a kind of personal health blog, providing a precursor to a citizen-accessed view of their integrated care record.