October is National Organize Your Medical Information Month. Since this is not something that most of us think twice about until we need it, dedicating time once per year to organize your medical information is important so that it is easily accessible in the event of major illness or injury. Developing a personal system for organizing medical information will help you stay on top of doctor’s visits, medications, and even help with insurance claims. Being able to provide a copy of your own medical records may help you receive safer and quicker treatment if you get sick, change doctors, move, or end up in an emergency room.
When deciding how to organize medical paperwork for yourself, your children, or another individual, develop a system that works best for you and is easy to access, store, and update. Some people like to print their records, in which case I suggest using a three-ring binder to keep things in one place. For those who like to live paperless, make duplicate electronic copies of scanned or documents and save them on your computer to mirror the organization of your paper files. Wherever you keep this info, make sure that the first page includes your name, date of birth, blood type, and a table of contents so that you (or someone else) can access this information quickly. The remainder of the content is customizable, but following the steps below will help you navigate the process and get started.
1. Locate Your Documents. Many don’t know this, but you can call your doctor and request copies of your medical records. Your doctor should be able to help you find medical records online, at hospitals, or other health care facilities that you’ve visited in the past. Heads up – you will need to sign a release form, provide a valid government-issued photo ID, and may even have to pay a one-time fee. If you are requesting records for someone other than yourself, medical offices will only release them if a direct authorization to disclose records to a third-party form is signed by the patient. Most requests can be completed within 5-10 business days; however, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) allows providers 30 days to complete a record request, plus a single 30-day extension.
2. Organize Information by Category and Date. Everyone has a different health history, therefore how you organize your records is a personal decision. Your current and past health information may include:
· Doctor office visit information (date, doctor name, and notes)
· Dates and results of tests, procedures or health screenings
· Information about any major illnesses, surgeries, or hospital visits
· A list of allergies, including drug or food allergies
· Immunizations records
· Hearing, vision, and dental records
· History of childbirth
· Cancer screenings, including Pap tests, mammograms, and colonoscopy tests
· Information that is needed in an emergency (e.g., a pacemaker, stent or hearing and vision problems)
· A list of long-term (chronic) health problems, such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
· Family history of disease
· A history of any counseling received
· Medicines taken in the past and present, including any side effects (see step 3)
3. List Current and Past Information. Include a list of current and past prescriptions, supplements, and over-the-counter medications. Write down the drug name, dosage, start date, end date, and the condition it is treating, plus any side effects experienced. Ideally, you would list medications from the past 5 years, but if you can’t remember that far back, feel free to go back as far as you can remember.
4. Locate and Organize Billing and Insurance Documents. In order by date, organize copies of all bills and receipts from doctors' offices and any insurance payment documentation (explanation of benefits forms). Keep records of insurance claims, payments that have been made, and balance information.
5. Make a List of Important Contacts. List names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email (if applicable) of your doctors and pharmacist. Include the emergency contact information of a family member, or friend in case of an emergency. Include the name, policy number, address, and telephone number of your health insurance company. Keep this list in the front of your binder (if you are keeping track of paperwork physically) or on the first page of your digital files.
Having your medical information organized will make you feel more prepared for the future, and for any health emergency that may come your wayedicating time once per year to organize yomur medical information is important so that it is easily accessible in the event of major illness or injury.