Yesterday I went to my primary care doctor. The physician assistant said, as she looked at my records, ”you haven’t been here in a while.” I agreed, and the next thing she said was “we have to send you for blood work.” This time, I didn’t agree. I had blood work in May as part of a visit to another doctor, to whom my primary care doctor referred me. But she didn’t have the results. His office never send them to the referring physician. And neither did the lab, despite the fact that I have been a patient of both the physician and the lab for ten years.
Thankfully, I had them myself. I hauled out my trusty iPad, got on the office’s (unsecured) wireless network, and retrieved them from Google Health, where I participate in an online pilot program to give patients access to their own records. My insurance company, the pharmacy and the lab upload my results for me. I was able to prove the date of the tests and share the results, saving myself some time and the system some money.
That’s the least significant example of why patients need their own records I can think of. Many other examples involve life and death. Patrick Malone, a leading patient safety advocate, writes a newsletter on health affairs, and I’ve lifted this from his latest issue.
Having your own medical records is an essential first step to becoming an informed, proactive patient. It accomplishes a bunch of things all at once. You become literate in your own body. You learn the lingo your doctors use and you remind yourself of the concerns your doctors have about you that you might rather not think about. You learn a lot about your doctor. Does he or she have an organized set of records? Do they record what you told them in your sessions with reasonable accuracy and completeness? If the answers are no, you might want to think about getting another doctor. You can correct errors. Do your records say something about you that’s just plain wrong? Or do they leave out something important, like an allergy to a common drug such as penicillin?