The medical landscape is changing in America to the point where consumers have to take much more ownership of their personal health situation. You need to be more informed about your own health, how to prevent conditions and how to manage or change your lifestyle to help improve conditions you may have. Deciding what type of health care provider or treatment to take also means you have an obligation to yourself to know your personal medical information.
You already know that whenever you see a new doctor, the nurse or doctor always asks you about your family history, any medications you take, any past or current medical conditions you have. Why keep records if the doctor already does? You’ll likely see numerous doctors throughout your life, sometimes concurrently. Without an accurate record, one doctor may prescribe medication that has negative interaction with one that another doctor has prescribed for you. Also, over time, it’s easy to forget to mention things to the doctor that may be critically important. It may have been something that happened in your childhood, or you don’t think it is significant.
Be proactive and take charge of things by knowing your personal medical information. Here are some things that you need to know:
• Keep a list of all medications you take. – Include all prescription medicines as well as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Make sure to mark down the specific dosages and how many times per day you take them. Why is this list so important? When you go to a doctor, he or she will ask for this information during the process of taking your medical history. If you have a condition for which a medication will be prescribed, your doctor will ask what other prescription and OTC drugs – even supplements – which you are taking. This information is necessary to avoid potential drug interactions that could be dangerous. Make sure to keep this list updated. As you stop taking certain medications, mark the date and reason for discontinuing (condition cleared up, doctor changed medication or dosage, allergic reaction, drug interaction, etc.).
• Keep a record of your family history. – Some diseases and medical conditions have a genetic basis. They are said to “run in the family.” Some are thought to have a heritable basis, predisposing individuals to the risk of developing a certain type of disease. Research is continually evolving that shows a genetic connection to more and more diseases. Knowing your family history can help doctors diagnose and treat problems in a more effective manner. Such information can be more than convenient. In some cases, it could be life-saving. For this reason, your doctor will need to know if anyone in your family has or has had heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, alcoholism, or mental health disorders, among other conditions.
• Note current or past medical conditions for which you have been treated. – This includes chronic conditions such as back pain, asthma, diabetes, heart disease. It also includes any previous hospitalizations or surgeries you may have had, such as for breast or other cancer, cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, broken limbs, surgery following an accident. Include any head trauma you sustained.
• Note any other medical information. – This includes any addiction or addiction-related treatment, phobias, and eating disorders. Also include any allergies or serious drug interactions and make sure all your doctors know about them as this could potentially save your life.
• Keep copies of all lab work, evaluations, and other tests. – You also need to have records (copies) of all lab work that you have done. In addition, keep copies of medical evaluations, X-rays, MRIs and other scans or tests.
What Else You Should Keep
Other important health information you should keep readily available in your folder or file includes insurance coverage, health care providers, personal profile, and general information. List insurance company names, identification numbers, and plans. This includes Medicare, Medicaid, and supplemental health insurance coverage. If you change employers, you may need to also change health insurance providers. This is another reason to keep your insurance information up to date.
Instead of stashing everything in one folder labeled “Medical,” keep separate files for each member of the family. That way, in an emergency, or when you need it, all the information is readily available. Sometimes, minutes count. Make sure you’re prepared to handle situations that demand immediate attention. The less time you need to spend searching for documents, the more time you can devote to getting the care you (or your family member) need.
Where to Store Personal Medical Information
Of course, you need to have safe and secure, anytime access to your important personal medical information. But where should you keep it? You have two choices:
• Use online health programs. - There are several online health sites that allow users to store their basic health information – such as vaccine dates, medications – in a confidential file they can access as needed. Be sure to list any past medical conditions, surgeries or other procedures you have had. One such site is PassportMD, which also allows consumers to scan files into their profile. This is very helpful when you see a new doctor. You could email your entire medical history to the doctor as needed. When choosing an online health site, make sure that your information is safeguarded. Look for features such as a virtual safety deposit box that guarantees the digitally-stored information of all your important life documents is secure – and that you have anytime, anywhere access.
• Keep records at home. – Your other choice is to use computer programs (Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) and keep your records stored on a CD. It’s also a good practice to keep back-up medical files in a file that you keep in a safe place at home, ideally in a fire-proof safe or metal filing cabinet. Use expandable files or binders to keep information separated for easy access.
That’s all you need to know to get started.