Are you a health care know-it-all?
It has become increasingly evident throughout my 36 years in healthcare that people, as they get older, have increasing difficulty keeping all their personal medical/health information straight in their heads.
First of all, your head isn’t where you should be trying to keep all your current and past health information, at least not as your primary location anyway.
Most people, when asked by their health care provider, can rattle off most if not all of the very pertinent medical history, from childhood diseases to surgeries, conditions, medications and allergies. However, as we get older, it’s harder to recall the what, when and where about our healthcare history – and this information becomes more vital as we age.
So, how can you get your medical information in order in a way you can get at it and have ready for others?
Well, the first thing to do is accept the fact that you absolutely cannot assume others value your personal health information like you do, nor is keeping an updated list of medications, surgeries and important family medical history high on anyone else’s list of priorities. It is up to you.
Ok, now we’re in the right frame of mind to begin.
First, create a list of everything you know and remember pertaining to your medical and health history, as far back as you can remember. You can fill in any gaps later. Try your best to include immunizations, medications and dosages, conditions, diseases and other diagnoses, surgical procedures as well as others such as colonoscopies, eye examinations, preventative screenings etc.
And don’t forget to list any and all allergies, as well as what happened to you when you had the reaction – swollen lips/tongue, rash, hives, breathing difficulties etc. The information goes a long way in determining if you had a bona fide “anaphylactic” reaction, which is potentially deadly or even fatal, versus less serious “adverse effects or side effects.” An example of this would be “when I take morphine I get sick,” or “I can’t take codeine because it binds me up.” This is not an allergic reaction, but more an adverse effect or “side effect” of a drug.
Next, develop a plan as to how you will acquire and catalog the information you need and have at home. Then, develop a plan to acquire what information you need that isn’t readily available at home in your possession. This may involve calling various physicians and/or facilities that have recently cared for you and request copies of tests, x-ray reports, current diagnoses (i.e. hypertension, heart failure, high cholesterol etc.), procedures and operative records.
You’ll no doubt be required to sign releases to obtain this information and this can often be accomplished by mail, email or fax. You may also need to personally pick up your information copies. You have the right to this information and don’t let anyone else try to convince you otherwise. Once you have mastered this phase, it’s time to concentrate on your family history. This should include information on both sides of your family, father/mother, grandparents etc. Many hereditary conditions, for example, can “skip generations” or affect female offspring/descendants more than male.
Try to get as specific as possible, such as why Aunt Hazel died at 45 years old, or why Uncle Harry on my mother’s side lived to 101. Many types of cancers can have their roots traced in this manner and some types can place daughters/granddaughters at increased risks (i.e. breast/ovarian cancers). By being as comprehensive as possible, family health patterns can become apparent and can provide valuable information to physicians.
Now, after you have spent all this energy acquiring this information, you need to create a safe and accessible location for accessing it whenever the need arises. Storing large amounts of papers in a box, while accessible, isn’t especially practical, particularly if you want to take the information with you for any reason (i.e. vacation or relocation). There are many new products available in the marketplace that allow for electronic storage of this information. Some items can be as simple as a flash drive, however look for one with proper privacy protection capabilities. Other more sophisticated devices can store large amounts of information, and yet be privacy protected. These options allow a person to take their information with them when traveling or relocating and also offer quick and easy access to the information at a moment’s notice, such as in an emergency room. Most of these devices will allow for updating as you receive more current care.
The key here, is to compile as much important information as possible and have it readily accessible. This can help improve health care by reducing duplication of prescriptions by different doctors, inadvertent alterations of dosages or even the prescribing of the wrong medication for your needs. In an emergency, having ready access to healthcare information may just save your life.
The new health care laws (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) are supposed to be designed to make access to your information available anytime, anywhere. The problem here is that, up to now, there have been significant problems with the inability of different EHR (Electronic Health Record) software programs to communicate with other programs, and until this gets resolved, odds are it will be difficult to impossible to access your information beyond the local level.
Sounds like a lot of work? Sure does. The alternative though, is not having valuable information when you need it, and need it quickly. Do you want to run the risk, especially as we get older and suffer the indignities of memory lapses? You be the judge.