Saturday, January 26, 2013

Make Life Easier by Keeping Your Own Medical Records

With the Affordable Care Act and all, I've heard a lot of talk over the last few years about medical providers keeping digital records. That's fine, but why don't we keep some kind of medical records of our own? They won't have the level of authority as a doctor's medical record, but keeping your own medical records has its uses.

I'll admit, I'm a little biased on this topic. As a health insurance agent, I've heard people ask "How am I supposed to remember five to ten years of medical history?" when filling out an application. I usually just tell them to work from memory best as they can.

I've had my fair share of surprises, though. Plenty of people fail to remember

  • What happened
  • What treatment they had
  • What doctor they may have seen after some kind of serious illness, like cancer, heart attacks and other things that scare the pants off me
I've even seen people get declined for life insurance because they can't remember where they had a test done. The life insurance carrier can't get the information they need for underwriting. They can't even start figuring out if they can take a risk on the applicant. All this after the applicant has gone through the paramed appointment and everything.

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, I've also filled out a couple health insurance applications as my employer looked at their group plan options. Thankfully I had a good enough memory that I was able to dredge up the necessary information. I could also work off of old applications.

We all get older, though. Our memories lose their edge. We end up having more accidents and stranger bodily issues arise. Remembering medical history DOES get harder.

All those issues on my mind, I put together a simple spreadsheet where I keep a log of my medical, dental and other relevant history and claims. I can just type in the information then not have to worry about remembering all of it. Another use for keeping your own digital records: you can keep your facts and dates straight when communicating with insurance carriers about claims.

The headers of the spreadsheet looks something like this (click at it to see it full size):

I used my experience with medical questionnaires on health insurance applications to make the fields. The top part should be pretty self explanatory.

  • What do you have?
  • Who did you see to treat it?
  • How do you get in touch with that person?
That cuts out a lot of work for underwriters. Applying for life or health insurance also becomes much more efficient. Stress gets cut, too.

Makes the job easier for a new health care provider to do research or find out where to get medical records, too. No need for

  • The phone book
  • Searching on the Internet
  • Prospecting through a professional network
Much easier just to get a phone number off a spreadsheet, especially when not much contact has occurred in years.

Sure, they could have closed shop. That's a whole other issue, though. Not much the patient can do but make sure their authoritative medical records follow them from doctor to doctor.

The ongoing record under the contact information part becomes a little complicated, though. Claims and ongoing medical conditions can require multiple phone calls, visits, e-mails and references to some online accounts or status updates, check ups or procedures. Some conditions even have a multitude of procedures that need to be done.

I like to use the merge function to my advantage for this part. I don't use merge for the "Date of Note" or "Note/Status" much, if at all. New information gets added in these fields more than other data.

New dates and notes pretty much keep getting added to

  • Date of Service
  • Insurance Carrier
  • Claim #
Just merge the cell in these columns that has information with blank cells underneath that match up to the fields where you put "Dates of Notes" and "Notes and Status." You won't need to keep typing and sifting through this same information. You put it in once and just look at it once.

Those parts could change in the future if you

  • Have multiple visits
  • Switch insurance carriers
  • If your current insurance carrier sets up a new claim for the same thing (I've seen it happen!). It's unlikely, though.
This simple spreadsheet will save time and effort trying to recall all those appointments and treatments. Get the application or visit a new doctor then pull out the spreadsheet. You'll be in and out with the past in no time!

It can get a little cumbersome, though, after a couple years. I can see it getting even moreso later. As of now, I put more recent stuff at the end. I have thought about putting it at the top. I won't need really old information after awhile, so it will keep getting pushed down further and further.

Maybe have multiple spreadsheets for multiple years. The individual sheets remain manageable and easier and faster to load. We want the experience with this tool effortless and painless, after all.

Using a database program for keeping these records might help more. I've started using LibreOffice Base to take notes for my bachelor project. I've used more elegant databases, but those cost a whole lot more than the price tag of FREE for LibreOffice Base.

Database programs don't have the simplicity of spreadsheets. They also require more customization and set up time. As we get old and subjected to more injury and sickness, though, our health histories become more complex. The simplicity of a spreadsheet might end up a mess and difficult to sift through for desired information.

With a database, though, you can do all types of filtering and sorting information. Instead of copying and pasting, you can have the database just display entries that have certain characteristics. Also, no need to mess with highlighting a ton of spreadsheet fields then use the sort command. Just tell the database to sort with a click on a header.

A database also has the advantage of just showing one note at a time. A spreadsheet requires you to sift through tons of irrelevant information. Then you have to manually avoid all the irrelevant text that stays on the screen. Don't have to do any of that crap when just looking at one entry at a time.

I'll have to look into using a database to keep my personal digital health records. Yay, yet another task to add to the list. . ..


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