Access to your records is important
If, like me, your health care has been disrupted by new insurance coverage and the loss of your doctors and/or hospital network, it’s important that you have a hard copy of your health records.
I’ve always advised patients to keep copies of all their important health reports—x-rays, lab results, operative and pathology reports, etc.
A timeline of surgeries and hospitalizations is a good idea, too.
And it’s vital to keep an up-to-date medication list, including any frequently used over-the-counter products such as baby aspirin, ibuprofen, antacids, vitamins and herbal supplements (to name but a few).
Having this information to take to a new doctor is incredibly useful, especially if your new doctor—like mine—uses a different electronic health record system than your old doctor. Unfortunately, these systems don’t talk to each other; it will be your responsibility to bring your health records to your new doctor.
Most electronic health record systems have a “patient portal” that allows you to create an account and access your health record online. For example, with the Epic system, the patient portal is called “My Chart.” Most often, you can see lab and x-ray results, current medications, surgeries, hospitalizations, family history and a health summary that lists your most recent conditions or diagnoses.
Access your health record and make copies of everything to take to your new doctor. Not sure how to do this? Talk to your doctor’s office. Some smaller offices and hospitals have not yet switched to electronic health records, and you might need to get information the old way—fill out a release form and ask that a copy of your medical records be mailed to you or your new doctor (note: some offices/hospitals charge a fee for this service).
Check and double-check for accuracy
Even if you aren’t changing doctors, create an account and look at your online health record.
Inaccurate records can lead to:
- Unnecessarily repeated tests
- Medication errors, including allergic reactions, and other medical mistakes
- Overcharging for care
Review dates, tests, results, conditions, allergies and family history. Is anything missing? Is something there that you don’t recognize or understand? Flag it, and talk to your doctor.
Especially look at your current medication list. My best friend, a physician, tears her hair out every day over the medication inaccuracies she finds in patients’ charts.
Electronic health records are really only as good as the humans entering the data, and many hospitals and doctors’ offices use medical assistants, nurses’ aides and medical students who lack enough training and experience.
And, sadly, I’ve been reading more frequently about how electronic charting systems, especially in hospitals, allow the doctors to “copy and paste” generic notes from one chart to another, or chart things that never happened:
Medical billing is based off charting and documentation, and that can have different levels. Level 5 charts are billed the most, when the provider offers the higher level of care. Ideally, EMRs [electronic medical records] make documentation more accurate, allowing for more level 5 charts for medical coding and billing. But when all it takes is a few buttons to increase your billing, how many physicians submit to small temptations and conveniences?
In Epic’s CareConnect, a widely used EMR, there is a small button that, when pushed, indicates the physician has counselled the patient to stop smoking. It adds a small amount ($20-30) to the billing, and the physician makes a little more.
I’ve been told by physicians, “If the patient is an active smoker, just click that button about the counselling.” Most of the time, the patient is counselled. Sometimes though, they aren’t.
Be your own health information guardian
No one is more vested in keeping your health records up-to-date and accurate than you.
There are several eHealth tools to help you keep track of your medical information. Microsoft’s Health Vault is one. These are not related to your doctor’s health record systems; they are just another way for you to store and organize your records.
For more information and links, check out the eHealth website at HealthIT.gov.
(Yes, I know it’s a bit ironic that a website run by the Department of Health and Human Services—of Obamacare infamy— is advising us on health technology. But it is a useful page nonetheless!)
Whether you are most comfortable using online folders or, like me, are old-school and want a paper file, start now to compile and oversee your personal health history.
If you have kids, make copies of their records and check for inaccuracies as well.
I anticipate our provider networks will be constantly changing over the next few years, at least, with doctors and hospitals hopping in and hopping out.
So keep your health records within easy reach.