Keep your medical records handy

There is a lot that I won’t claim to know about health care or any potential changes coming our way, but I think I can say with some certainty that I’ve learned a few lessons on how to navigate some key aspects. Most recently, I’ve learned firsthand how important it is that you be responsible for your own medical records. This isn’t a rant about how you can’t trust “the system,” or a story about extreme situations: rather a story about how frightening it can be to lose something that can easily be taken for granted, like your medical history. Maintaining up to date and accurate medical records is an important task for anyone and everyone, whether you are a student, an athlete, a caregiver, or chronically ill.

In recently changing specialists, I attempted to find my medical records from a previous physician to share with my new one, only to find that when he retired from practice, my medical records did also. Needless to say, the physician he shared an office with, and whom I had originally continued with, did not have these records and felt it wasn’t necessary to inform me that I was now a blank slate.

Now, it’s not the end of the world. I’m sure that when I reach retirement, 10 years of medical history won’t prevent a doctor from understanding my experience and making relatively educated decisions. At the moment though, it’s nearly half my life, and no amount of online research can make up for the fact that I don’t have the medical education or the records to share exactly what has been going on with my new doctor.

So, what next? As college students, we all had to send a medical history to the Student Health Center along with an immunization history, which provides a good starting point. Also, a quick search through New York State law indicates that different facilities are required to keep medical records for a certain amount of time; this is helpful in digging up even older records. And although most every medical provider has a per page charge for personal copies, I will insist on getting them made for my own records.

Although we are all mostly at a stage of life where we are transitioning away from the family structures that made sure we went to the dentist regularly and made it to our annual checkups, I can’t claim ignorance and say that I’ve suddenly become in charge of my personal health care. However, certain rules regarding medical records change when you turn 18, so it’s important to be informed as you become officially in charge of your health care. Honestly, when there is so much information to worry about, who knew that keeping track of where your records are would be such a problem?

You never know when you might have to move, change doctors, or even become unable to care for yourself. Keeping a folder of records handy might be one of the best things you can do, in addition to knowing your rights and the rules that affect you. Specifically, the New York State Department of Health has details on patients’ rights, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act guarantees patients the right to obtain copies of their medical records.