Most of us have no idea what's in our medical records, much less how to organize them. But there are advantages to taking control of your files.
"Each doctor you see will keep her own chart, and unless they are all in constant contact, there is a risk of ordering duplicate tests, failing to give a vaccine -- because one assumes another doctor did it -- or writing a prescription that interacts negatively with something else you're taking," says Davis Liu, a family physician at the Permanente Medical Group in Northern California and the author of "Stay Healthy, Live Longer, Spend Wisely" (Stetho; 2007). Here are some pointers.
Go to your primary care physician's office and ask for copies of your records. You are legally entitled to the files, although you may have to pay a small fee to cover clerical costs, such as photocopying. If you were under the care of a specialist for any duration -- such as an oncologist for cancer -- obtain copies of the notes from the first time she saw you, any operations or procedures you had, and the last office visit. In the event that the disease returns, your current doctors will know the history of your original treatment.
Create a System
Liu recommends setting up a filing system with folders grouped by doctor and then by date. He also suggests taking control of appointment reminders by adding them to your own calendar, rather than relying on your doctor's office to inform you it's time for a mammogram or a Pap smear.
The other option is to organize your records using an online program such as Google Health or Microsoft HealthVault. The advantage is that you can access your records anywhere and share them easily with your doctors and family. The programs can spot potential drug interactions and track lab results and insurance information. The potential downside is that they are not covered by the HIPAA law (which protects patient privacy), although Google and Microsoft have pledged not to share personal information for marketing purposes without permission.
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