Healthy Dose: How Medical Records Can Save Your Life

Yet if you're like most people, you assume that your doctor does precisely that even though you probably don't know your own medical history or the details of your medical conditions by heart. When was your last tetanus shot? What antibiotic successfully treated your last urinary tract infection? What is your LDL cholesterol level?

The fact that doctors are dealing with information overload is only part of the reason you need to take charge of your health information. Doctors are further hamstrung because they don't even have a desk drawer or file cabinet full of comprehensive records to fall back on anymore. When patients move or change jobs and therefore have new insurance plans and family doctors, charts are not routinely transferred. Even if you sign a release to have your records transferred, complete records are rarely sent to your new doctor, and too often records are lost or not sent at all. Women often have their records divided between a gynecologist and family doctor. Who has your last Pap test result? Mammogram report? Recent blood test results?

Hospital discharge summaries, specialist consultation reports and critical emergency room findings should be sent to family doctors, but that doesn't always happen. Worse yet, in large practices, consultation reports and test results often get lost or filed in the wrong folder.

Did you know that 80 percent of what a doctor relies on to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend the right treatment plan comes from the information in your medical records? This information is arguably more important than any other. Imagine the difficulty of making a diagnosis -- let alone recommending the right treatment -- if information is unavailable, incorrect or incomplete.

I believe the solution to this crisis is a grass-roots effort, with each of us taking medical matters literally into our own hands by compiling our own medical records. I developed a simple but revolutionary system that will teach you how to do it. This system grew out of my 30 years of experience first as a nurse, then as a doctor, but also as a mother, daughter and caregiver. It is in response to these profound changes in the practice of medicine, changes that make it more important than ever that we, as patients, take charge.

Key among the steps to my system is collecting and reading copies of your medical records and making them available to everyone involved in your care. People are often surprised to learn that ethically and legally they are entitled to copies of the information in their medical records. Despite that fact, doctors and nurses often hesitate to let patients have a look at the vital information that rightfully belongs to them, fearing they will not understand or become unduly alarmed. I have found that almost everyone wants to know the truth about his or her medical condition, no matter how serious it may be.

To make matters worse, after reading their records, some people discover incorrect information about medications and allergies. Others learn that their doctors overlooked critical findings in X-ray or blood test results. Still others learn about misleading or missing information in their records only after mistakes happen that could have cost them their lives.

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