It’s In Your Hands

Do you have a copy of your medical records? Why not? They belong to you. If you do have a copy, are they complete or simply include the records from only one physician? Do your records include copies of the results of all the laboratory tests you have had done? Copies of the results of all procedures you have had done? Copies of any and all x-rays, CT scans and MRI’s in digital form? Physician notes? Do you have dates, locations and physician names? This information may sound unimportant to you, but when it comes to future treatment with regards to your health, each of these pieces of information could be the critical information that determines the course of your health care.

Recently I had to go out of town for medical treatment. I was told to bring all my medical records with me including x-rays, MRI’s, ct scans, etc., in digital format. I did just that. My medical binder is lovingly referred to as War and Peace. A great name I think, as it is large, assembled by one person, and certainly is the story of a person at war and at peace with her own body.

Ok. Now that you have an understanding of how critical and vital it is that you maintain your own set of health records, you are probably saying, I agree, but where do I begin? The doctors won’t give them to me? I’ve been to so many different physicians, where do I begin? Well, it’s actually much easier than you thought. It just takes some organizing, planning, and effort on your part. But it will be worth every bit of time you put into the process.

When HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was passed in 1996 not only did it ensure the privacy of your medical records it also gave you access to all of your medical information. In short HIPAA says Health Insurers and Providers who are covered entities must comply with your right to:
• Ask to see and get a copy of your health records
• Have corrections added to your health information
• Receive a notice that tells you how your health information may be used and shared
• Decide if you want to give your permission before your health information can be used or shared for certain purposes, such as for marketing
• Get a report on when and why your health information was shared for certain purposes
• If you believe your rights are being denied or your health information isn’t being protected, you can
o File a complaint with your provider or health insurer
o File a complaint with the U.S. Government
You should get to know these important rights, which help you protect your health information. You can ask your provider or health insurer questions about your rights.

Now you know you can get the copies so it’s time to set about gathering all this information that is being stored in files all around town at various doctor’s offices. First make a list of all of your physicians and their telephone numbers and begin calling their offices. The easiest place to begin is with the physician you see the most often. Simply pick up the phone, tell them who you are and that you would like to get a copy of your medical records. They may ask you why, and this may seem like they don’t want to give them to you, but often they are just checking to see if the records are for another physician. In that case, they would normally send them to the new physician free of charge. But if you allow them to send records to the other physicians, you never get your hands on them. Simply tell them that you want to become an equal partner in your health care and as such you need copies of all of your medical records. They may say they charge for copying them for you, and by law they can only charge a nominal fee. It should not be exorbitant. Once you have a copy of these records, then move on the next physician. Continue the process until you have all your records.

Once you have them in hand, organize them in one place, such as a three ring binder, and be sure to take them with you to the hospital, any new physician or anytime you are seeing physicians away from home. Additionally, any time you see one of your regular doctors for normal visits, ask them for copies of all lab results, test results, and physician notes after they are dictated. You may want to take your own notes during the visit and record things such as height, weight, blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and your understanding of what is discussed including any changes in medications.

If you begin this now, you will have your own set of medical records and not have to rely on others for information should the need arise. Remember, physicians go out of business just like all other businesses. If you don’t have your records before they close shop, this information could be lost forever. Additionally, what is in your hands may save you from unnecessary tests, procedures, time and expense.

Once when I had to go to the emergency room due to difficulty breathing, the physicians there heard fluid in my lungs. The immediate reaction was that I must have congestive failure and they wanted to do a heart catherization to confirm this. I opened my personal copy of War and Peace, showed them the latest results of the heart cath done just a few months prior, and was given an inhalation treatment instead of a heart cath. The ER physician said he wished all his patients had their information with them as I did. I was just glad I stopped the invasive procedure and could walk out in a couple hours instead of a couple days.

Your health is more in your hands than you realize. Begin today to take control or your health and your health records.

From the Life and Thoughts of
Wanda M. Argersinger, Executive Director
The Lupus Support Network

One Response to It’s In Your Hands

  1. Janet says:

    Wanda, this is absolutely a wonderful blog!! Thank you so much for sharing this. Janet

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