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Organizing Your Medical Records

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Topic Overview

It's a good idea to keep copies of your medical records.

You'll need them if you change doctors, move, get sick when you're away from home, or end up in an emergency room. If any of these things happen and you have your records, you may get treatment more quickly, and it will be safer.

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You can write a short summary of this information and keep a copy in your files and in your wallet or purse. You also can keep this information on a portable storage device for computers. Be sure that someone you trust also knows where you keep it.

How do you get started?

To get started, call your family doctor and ask for your records, or wait until your next visit. Ask your doctor if he or she can help you make a personal health record. Your family doctor also may be able to help you find other places where you may have medical records, such as at a hospital.

You'll need to sign a release form. In fact, you may need to sign one at every facility that you request records from.

You also may be asked to pay for copies of your records and the time it takes to make copies. And you also may be charged for mailing fees. Ask how long it will take to receive your copies.

Here's a tip that might save you time and money: be specific about the records you want. Otherwise, the hospital or doctor's office might simply copy every single item in your file—and charge you for all of it. A smaller group of records might be cheaper and also easier to organize.

After you have your information, you need to organize it. Here are some ideas.

Use a notebook or paper filing system

Use a 3-ring binder or wire-bound notebook with dividers for each member of the family. If you get a notebook with pockets, you can keep test results and other health papers in these pockets.

Use your computer

Use any software program you're comfortable with, or get software specifically for personal medical records.

Another option is to store your health records on a secure Internet site. Your health plan or hospital may have one that you can use for free.

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) sponsors an Internet site where you can search for paper-based, software-based, and Internet-based personal health record systems. Go to www.myphr.com.

What records should you have?

Your medical records should include:

  • Current health information.
  • Your medical history.
  • Records of recent insurance claims and payments. Experts advise keeping these for up to 5 years after the service date. But if they're related to your tax returns, keep them for 7 years, along with those tax returns.
  • A copy of your advance directive, including a living will and power of attorney.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 13, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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