To give the best medical care, your doctor needs to know your medical history. However, you shouldn't rely on the medical system to be the sole keeper of this information. It's best to have your medical history organized and easily accessible in case of emergency.
According to a 2011 study by Consumer Reports, only 33 percent of patients keep a log of their medical history, the prescription drugs they take and results from tests and procedures. And without the appropriate medical information, it can be hard for medical professionals to make proper diagnoses and recommendations.
Here are five smart ways to organize your medical information.
1. Designate an "in case of emergency" (ICE) contact and keep a hard copy on you.
Your “in case of emergency” contact is who a first responder, such as a paramedic or police officer, would contact to obtain important medical or support information in the event you’re seriously injured.
“Much has been made about putting ICE in phones, but I never once went looking for a patient's phone in all the time I worked on an ambulance,” says Darla DeMorrow, certified professional organizer and a former EMT.
DeMorrow points out that, “with lock screens so common, having ICE info in your phone might be completely useless.”
The best thing is to have a typed list (which you could keep in your wallet or purse) with current medications and personal contacts available to hand to the medical provider, or that the provider could easily find.
When considering your future contact person, choose someone who knows your medical history and is easy to contact.
And don’t forget to tell your ICE that he or she will be your emergency contact.
2. Create a health profile.
The next step is creating a personalized health profile. This is essentially a snapshot view of your medical history. Allen Kamrava, a board-certified colorectal and general surgeon of Cedars Sinai Medical Center, says a health profile should include the following information:
- Past medical history: Any diagnoses you’ve ever had.
- Past surgical history: Any procedures or surgeries you had, with approximate dates.
- Social family history: Any family history of cancer or other disease? Include whether or not you smoke and your occupation.
- Medications: List all the medications you are actively taking.
- Your physicians: List the physicians you’re seeing – most importantly, your primary care physician.
- Decision maker: If you become incapacitated, who do medical professions turn to for decisions? Do you have a power of attorney or living will?
To obtain this information, you need to call or email the hospitals and clinics where you’ve been a patient.
"Most hospitals and medical providers are required to give you copies of your medical reports," says Heather Holmes, CEO and founder of personal health record platform TapGenes.
3. Create a health care power of attorney.
A health care power of attorney (POA) is a document that allows you to select a friend or family member to make health care decisions for you if you’re unable to do so. Here are some things your POA nominee would be in charge of deciding:
- What type of medical care you receive.
- Where you’ll live.
- What you’ll eat.
- Who will bathe you.
DeMorrow says, “Not everyone has a family structure to depend on, so it's fine to choose a friend or neighbor who has agreed to act on your behalf.”
4. Compile your health insurance information.
A major part of organizing and managing your medical information is tracking your medical bills and insurance information.
You can do this by both tracking your medical activities -- such as appointment dates, bills and payment information -- and filing that information. Kamrava advises clearly listing your primary and (if you have it) secondary insurance in order to make billing easier.
These activities can be done on paper or electronically through Google Drive, Evernote or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Keeping a list in one place can help ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
5. Organize your system.
You now know what medical information you need to track and organize, but DeMorrow reminds us, "information is only useful if you can find it." So to make finding information easier, she suggests dividing your medical information records into three general categories:
1. Billing. Medical bills and related information from the last two years.
2. Personal health care records. Your health care profile, prescriptions, ICE, etc.
3. Reference. General helpful health-related information such as magazine articles and diet plans. This is not to be confused with your personal medical information.
The way you organize your system depends on if you choose to use a digital system, a paper system or a combination of both. For example, if you choose to use the digital system, Evernote, you could create tags for billing, personal health care records and reference. And if you choose to use a traditional paper filing system you could color code the folders to help you stay organized.