If you have a chronic or serious medical condition you've probably accumulated more papers, forms, and instructions about your illness than you can count. How do you know what to keep and where should you put it all?
It's best to keep all of your important health information in one easy to access place. It's important that it's portable so you can bring it to doctor appointments and hospital visits. It's better to keep too much rather than toss something that's important. When in doubt, don't throw it out.
To keep it manageable, follow these simple steps to organize your health information.
Gather Your Supplies and Papers
Gather supplies you'll need to organize and enlist the help of a friend or loved one. Gather all of your medical papers, prescription medication information, labs tests, etc, and organize them into piles of like materials.
Take Stock of What You Have
Count your piles and name then according to type of information. Your piles may look something like this:
- Contacts/Business Cards
- Advance Directives
- History and Physical Exams
- Lab and Diagnostic Tests
- Current Medications
- Current Treatments
- Previous Medications/Treatments
Make dividers for each section. The basic contents of your binder are listed below. Customize it to fit your needs.
Create a Face Sheet
The first page of your medical binder should include your name and contact number and emergency contact information. Only include as much information as you feel comfortable. Your binder could be lost or misplaced and you want to include just enough information to be sure it gets back to you safely. You don't want to include your social security number or insurance information in this binder.
Section One: Contacts
Section one should contain all of your important contact. You can create a spreadsheet of all your doctors, specialists, social workers, therapists, etc., and place it in a clear plastic sheet protector or write each one on a sheet of paper.
Keep extra sheet protectors to drop business cards into when you meet new people. There are even clear plastic business card holders that are made to be put in 3-ring binders. You could use one of these to organize your contacts as well. I suggest keeping at least one extra sheet in your binder for new business cards.
Section Two: Advance Directives/Legal Forms
Section two should contain all important legal documents. If you have Advance Directives, Five Wishes, POLST, or Allow Natural Death order, a copy of each should be placed in a clear plastic sheet protector. You may wish to keep several copies as most health care providers will ask for one anyway.
Assemble Section Three: History and Physical Exams
Any time you see a specialist they prepare a report for your primary physician. Ask for a copy of each report to include in your binder. These reports are extremely useful to new health care providers.
Section Four: Lab and Diagnostic Tests
Ask for copies of any lab work and diagnostic tests to keep in your records. Lab tests include blood draws, urine or stool samples, etc. Diagnostic tests might include CT scans, MRIs, X-rays, biopsies, and the like.
Section Five: Current Medications
Keep a list of current medications, including dose and frequency. You can make this on a computer using a spreadsheet or word document. You could also just write it on a sheet of paper and slip into a sheet protector. You may also want to keep your prescription information you receive from the pharmacy and slip them into sheet protectors. These can provide a reference to you if you develop a new symptom you suspect is a side effect.
Be sure to update this section any time a medication is added, discontinued, or changed.
Section Six: Current Treatments
This section is optional and should contain any current treatments you are receiving. These may include chemotherapy, radiation treatments, IV infusions, special wound care, and any other treatment that isn't considered a regular medication.
Keep a list of what treatments you are receiving, including any consent forms, instructions, and teaching forms given to you.
Section Seven: Past Medications/Treatment
This is the section people forget about the most. Once a medication is discontinued or a treatment stopped, it's often out of sight, out of mind. It's important, however, for health care providers to know which medications you've taken in the past and what types of treatments you have received.
To make it easy, simply move information from the current medication or treatment section to this section once the medication or treatment is stopped. Update any lists you keep in this section any time changes are made to keep it current.
- Enlist the help of a friend or loved one.
- Take breaks if the task becomes overwhelming.
- Bring your binder to every health care appointment.
- Add new things to the binder as soon as you get them. Keep it current and updated at all times.
What You Need
- A 3-ring binder
- 3-ring hole punch (optional)
- Clear plastic sheet protectors
- Clear plastic business card organizers (optional)
- All of your medical information