Many of us have complex medical histories and possibly multiple physicians we see regularly. October is designated as "Organizing Your Medical Information Month" as a reminder to take some time to collect, organize, and update your records. Having your records, medical history, medication list, and other medical information organized not only helps you when seeking medical treatment, but may be an invaluable resource in the event of an emergency.
When organizing your medical information, it is advisable to have physical and digital records of your information. You can keep digital files in a cloud based system (like a folder on your Google Drive). That would be more secure than a folder on your computer desktop, in the event something happens to your computer. Digital files in the cloud would also be accessible if you needed to share your information when you are somewhere other than your home computer. Basic medical information, such as major medical concerns and medications used can also be uploaded on your phone's Health app and can include settings that only you, a trusted party, and first responders can access in the event of an emergency. Physical copies of your health records should be part of your emergency preparedness box inside your home. These documents, along with copies of your ID, Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, and other identifying information can be kept in a waterproof bag (even a large freezer bag would work) at no cost. Fire resistant safes are also an option, although they would come with an additional cost.
When gathering your information, you can call your doctors to request your medical records. Inform the office that you are creating your health record. The doctor's office will gather and print your medical information for you and you can bring your ID and pick the records up in their office. If they use online systems for medical records, they can help you log in and access that information. For printed records, providers have 30-60 days to fulfill requests according to HIPAA regulations. Depending on how long ago you were a patient, it can take longer to retrieve those records if records are kept in off-site storage.
Find an organization system that works for you. Everyone's medical history is unique, so you will have to customize your organization style based on your history. What you do not want to do is throw everything into a box with no discernable organization scheme. You want to be able to find what you need when you need it in the future. Your organization should ensure that it is especially easy to find emergency information such as names of doctors, a list of major illnesses and surgeries, immunization records, allergies, and medication currently or previously taken. You will also want to organize your records pertaining to specific health concerns, screenings, or procedures. A detailed record of family medical history may also be helpful.
Keep information regarding billing and insurance. October is set aside as Organizing Your Medical Information month because October is often the month that people are considering their healthcare options, choosing insurance plans, or renewing their annual enrollment. This is a great opportunity to look through your bills, insurance payments, and receipts and to replace copies of your insurance cards. If you've been keeping your personal medical file for multiple years, you may be able to cull through some of the documentation as well, especially financial records after the accounts are closed. If/when you decide to dispose of any records, be sure to shred documents that contain identifiable information such as financial information or social security numbers.
Lastly, include a friend. Your file should include emergency contacts and this is a great time to ensure names, phone numbers, and email addresses are current. Update your list for any additions or subtractions that need to occur. If you are not married, check your life insurance policy to ensure the contact information for the beneficiary is current. If you are married, who is your and your spouse's emergency contact if something happens to both of you? If you've had a legal name change through marriage, divorce, or other reasons, ensure your records include copies of those changes. If you have children turning 18, you may want to update your emergency contacts and policies to include them. Inform a trusted individual not living in your house how and where to access your information if there is an emergency. And most importantly, take some time each year to revisit your personal medical record to update any changes so that you will be prepared for the future.