Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Top Reasons and Methods for Saving Your Medical Records

I was browsing the October 2009 issue of Consumer Reports when I came across an article on page 12 titled "Be sure to get the results of your medical tests."  Since my doctors and dentists have always let me know the results of tests, I didn't realize this was a problem. But the article states that there is a failure rate of 7%.  That means 1 out of every 14 patients isn't told about abnormal tests results.

I've always believed that "no news is good news," but that obviously isn't the case.  The article highly recommends you call your doctor whenever you have testing done.  Don't assume that everything is okay. 

I would also recommend that you keep records of all your appointments, tests, and results, not only for you, but for children and others in your care.  This may sound a little alarmist, and I'm certainly not a medical professional, but I think everyone should do the following:

1.  Write down appointments. By writing down appointments, you'll be less likely to miss one.  Use a calendar, an appointment book, or even a piece of notebook paper stuck in a folder.  I, personally, write all appointments on a kitchen calendar.  I also take the appointment card (the one the doctor or dentist gives me) and I tape it in an appointment book on the correct date. 

2.  Make a list of questions you want to ask the doctor and take that list with you.  As you ask the questions, jot down his or her response next to the question.  Once you get home, you can add the date and doctor's name to the top of the list and put it in your folder.  Personally, I have a word processing file on my computer.  When I get home from any appointment, I add the information to that document. 

3.  Make a list of any tests the doctor performs.  These tests could be routine blood or urine workups, mammograms, pap smears, fecal occult blood tests, cancer screenings, x-rays, blood pressures, or any others.  It's probably a good idea to record your weight, height, and pulse rate as well. 

4.  If you don't hear the results of your tests in a reasonable amount of time, call the doctor.  They are busy people, and while we'd like to think they're going to get back to you, research shows this is not always the case.

5.  Write down the results of your tests.  Again, I put my results in the same word processing file I use for all my medical records.  If any other doctor needs to know the results of a particular test, I can tell them.  I can also track changes in weight, height, blood pressure, and other test results. That way, if there is a significant change, I can inform the doctor.  For instance, when my doctor put me on a new medication, my pulse rate slowed over a period of time.  Because I had kept track, I was able to tell the doctor and he took me off that medication.

6.  If your doctor needs to do a follow-up test, make that appointment as quickly as possible.  Write it down on your calendar.  I put mine in my appointment book and also make a notation on my computer file. 

7.  Write down health-related items that occur at home or other locations.  If you take your blood pressure at Walmart, jot it down.  If you weigh yourself at the county fair, make a note of it.  If you get your flu shot at the county health department, put a record of it in your file. 

So why do all this?  If you're like me, you may see several doctors.  I have a dentist and a periodontist.  I get my yearly physical at a women's health clinic, but see a general practioner for everything else.  When I have a complaint, my regular doctor always sends me to a specialist such as a neurologist or gastroenterologist or otolaryngologist or cardiologist or some other "---gist" that I can't spell or pronounce.

As it turns out, I've ended up with medical records in many different places.  I have found that if I keep my own records, it saves a lot of time and tests.  If the general practioner does an A1C test for blood sugar, I can give that record to the women's health clinic so I don't have to get tested again.  If the neurologist takes my blood pressure and it's high, I can tell him that it's always normal when I see my regular doctor.  In this way, he doesn't worry about it and order a lot of extra tests.  I know what my "normal" is.  If my blood pressure is always high when I see that particular doctor, then I know that doctor is probably the reason for it.

By keeping my own medical records, I have saved a lot of time and money.  But more importantly, when my doctor asks me a question, I have an answer.  If the gynecologist asks me what prescriptions I'm taking, I have it written down.  If my regular doctor needs to know the results of a mammogram or colonoscopy, I can tell him.  I can give him a list of blood pressure readings.  I can tell him when I have my next appointment with a neurologist or when my last blood test occurred.  If I'm having trouble with a particular ailment, I can tell him when it started and what treatment steps have been taken.

This may sound as if I'm asking everyone to be a hypochondriac, but I'm not.  Medical people do make mistakes.  That's why if you're having surgery on one arm, the hospital staff will have you write on that arm, "This One."  They'll have you write on the other arm, "Not This One."  They know they're not infallible, and we should, too. 

Parents should not only do this for themselves, but for their children as well.  The pediatrician may have complete records, but children see other doctors besides their pediatricians.  Parents should keep complete records of when children have been sick.  Write down when children have had measles or mumps or influenza or when they were vaccinated for these.  Schools will ask for vaccination records and you'll be able to provide them.  Keep records of physicals and hospitalizations and injuries.  My parents didn't do this.  I wish they had, because some medical conditions I have now started when I was a teen.  It would be nice to have an accurate record of the those. 

With so much in the news about health care, with so many advancements in medicine and medical testing, with specialists for every ailment we have, it has become our responsibility to take care of our own health.  We can only do this by keeping track of our own medical records and the records of those we love and care for.

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