Is your desk neat as a pin or do you have to dig to find the surface hiding under mounds of paper? For many of us, filing and record keeping are at the bottom of the list of things we want to deal with. But when it comes to your health, keeping track of your medical records can literally be a life saver. That’s why I’m going to share my secret for organizing your health records.
Are you ready? It’s a 3-ring binder. No joke. I keep my entire medical history in a low-tech 3-ring binder. Technically at this point I have more than one binder, but that’s just because my health has not always been the greatest. I keep one binder for my general health and another for my hormone health, because hormones are my big, on-going issue.
I love my binder - it’s reliable, it’s easy to add information that comes to me on paper as well as electronic files, and it’s portable. And that really is the key – portability. Whenever I have a doctor’s appointment, my binder goes with me. And that means no matter what the appointment is about, I have my entire history right at my fingertips.
To get started, all you need is a big 3-ring binder and some divider tabs. You can do whatever makes sense to you, but here’s how my tabs are set up:
· Diary – This is my medical health journal. It can be hard to think back and figure out what could have triggered something else. So I keep track of my health each day, especially things that are out-of-the ordinary like headaches or changes to my diet.
· Tests – My doctors know that whenever they order tests, I want a printed copy of the results. For scans, I also get a copy of the actual scan as well as the written report from the radiologist. I punch holes in plain envelopes to make sleeves for CDs and DVDs so everything stays together in the binder.
· Insurance – I have a copy of my insurance policy in the binder so I have easy access to see what procedures my insurance will cover.
· Living will – A living will is a document that lets you assign someone to be your advocate to speak for you if you are too sick or injured to speak for yourself. If you are in an accident or are suddenly unable to communicate, your advocate will use the instructions you provide in your living will to make sure your medical decisions are carried out and to stand up for your rights as a patient. Read our Living Will article to learn more and for links to help you create your living will.
· Hospital paperwork – I include surgical records and discharge papers here along with anything else to do with a hospital stay. You never know when you might need to refer back to something from a past treatment. Plus it can be helpful to know exactly when a procedure was done.
· Medications – Full disclosure is my key word for this one. I keep a record of every medication I take including herbs, vitamins, and over-the-counter pain relievers. When I have prescriptions from multiple doctors, I make sure they are all listed together. That way all my doctors can help make sure my medications won’t interfere with each other.
· Questions – This is the point of the office visit - what I need to know from my doctor. Just remember, writing down your questions doesn’t do any good if you don’t look at the list. Make sure you double check that you got all your answers before the appointment is over.
To help you get started, check out this link from Massachusetts General Hospital. It’s a basic medical history form that will help you pull all your information together. Keep it and your binder up-to-date and you’ll never have to struggle filling out paperwork for a new doctor again because everything you’ll need will be gathered in one convenient place.
As you can probably tell, the most important thing isn’t the binder. It’s keeping track of the records. If a binder sounds like too much work, get an accordion file and stuff everything in it. It may not be tidy, but at least you’ll only have one place to search when you need the info. And don’t stop when your own records are organized. Every member of your family – spouse, partner, children, and parents – should have his or her own complete file. However you decide to do it, organizing your family’s health records is an important step to becoming the best possible advocate for your own health and the health of the people you love.