It pays to take charge of your health care by compiling your own electronic medical record or EMR, according to everydayhealth.com.
For many people, growing older tends to come with growing health issues and medical records. Managing medication lists, lab test results, medical bills, doctor’s reports and the like can be overwhelming. But there are ways you can better manage these records and your health.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and an influx of information that might not be completely decipherable,” said Sally Hurme, an elder law attorney and senior project manager for education and outreach at AARP. “It’s a big job just staying up and current, but it’s important to do so.”
Luckily, there are two advances to help you take charge of your health. First, you have a right to your medical files and, in most cases, all you need to do is just ask for a copy. And second, a large number of smartphone apps and Web-based programs are available to help you sort those documents and form them into your own personal electronic medical record, or EMR.
Obtaining Your Medical Records
Getting your medical records is the first step in organizing your health care documentation. “Every patient has a right to their medical records, their lab reports, their X-rays, whatever is in their medical file,” Hurme said. “How do you get it? You ask for it. There should be no difficulty in contacting your doctor or your lab or your hospital, and they are going to have records people who do this all day.”
Hurme warned that doctors, labs, and hospitals can charge a copying fee, so you might want to be picky about which medical records you request, whether the results of blood work, scans, or other lab tests. “If it’s a 1,000-page record, it’s going to be pretty pricey to get it, and it may take some time to get it,” she said. In general, lab reports and doctor’s orders will provide the richest sources of information for your personal EMR. If the price is too steep, you can ask your doctor or hospital to waive the fee.
In fact, it can be easier to ask for copies on the spot. “When you go to the cardiologist and have an EKG taken, say, can I have a copy of that? It’s no big deal. They should be able to provide that to you,” said Melissa Mattison, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, associate chief of the section of hospital medicine, and deputy director of Project ECHO-AGE at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Next, you’ll want to compile a medication list. Hurme suggested going to the pharmacy where you get your prescriptions filled and asking for a list of everything you’ve obtained. “The problem is, if you go to three different pharmacies, you’ll have to go to all three places because they’ll each have their own records,” she said. You’ll have an easier time of it if you belong to Medicare Advantage or receive prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D, as both plans will have a full record of your prescriptions.
Don’t limit the medication list in your personal EMR to the Rx ones alone. “Write down not only the medicines that are prescribed, but also the over-the-counter medications that you take, including herbal supplements,” Dr. Mattison said. The more complete your medication list, the better able your doctor and pharmacist will be able to avoid any potential drug interactions.
Getting a handle on your bills can be the easiest task for a senior. “You’ll need to look at your Medicare summary notice, which is mailed to you quarterly if you’ve had any medical treatment within the previous quarter,” Hurme said. “That will list every single claim, and what it was, and the amount the doctor charged and any amount you may owe.”
Organizing Your Medical Records
You can next boil all that information down to a small card you carry with you in your wallet or purse. The card should list your major medical problems, your current medications and your doctors, Mattison said.
But the digital age has made keeping and carrying your medical records easier than ever. For example, AARP has launched an online tool on its website that is free for members. It’s a collaborative effort with Microsoft Health Vault, which allows people to store their medical records online as a personal EMR and then access them from any computer or through their smart phone.
“You can safely and securely keep track of information like blood type, allergies, medication list, and emergency contact information,” Hurme said of the service. “It provides you a safe place that is easy for you to keep dumping stuff into as well as being able to get stuff out as you need it.” You also can provide access to a close family member or health care proxy, so they can access your EMR if you are incapacitated.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services maintains a list of personal EMR systems that you can view on their website.