Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.
If you feel like you are drinking from a fire hose with all the health information coming at you, you are not alone. Between lab results, directions for medicines, supplement lists, physical- therapy instructions, surgery-prep instructions, diet recommendations, and your own research on treatments, the list is endless. Anyone would be forgiven for throwing up their hands and deciding to leave managing it to the professionals. But it’s not in your interest to do that. They have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of patients about whom they are thinking and whose medication, symptoms, and lab results they are tracking. You have only one. They will do the best they can, but it will go better if you are tracking it all as well.
Having your information well-organized saves time for you and your doctor. If your doctor wants to see your lab results from a specialist, but can’t access it immediately for some reason, you might not get her opinion for weeks. If you can hand the results over to her immediately, either as a hard copy or on a flash drive, bam—you’re a hero and you get your answers right away. We’ve all shown up at a doctor’s appointment expecting them to have received test results or other medical data from other providers, only to find that it never arrived. Don’t let that be you again.
Health-care providers can give you better, more accurate guidance if you make sure they have a complete picture. A 2012 study estimated that five percent of adult outpatients (or twelve million people) are misdiagnosed each year in the United States. One of the keys to addressing this is thought to be improved communication and information sharing between patient and physician.20
Here are three steps to tame the medical-information monster:
Step 1. Gather Information
Always get copies of every set of test results for yourself. You may need to push to get them, but it is your information. You deserve to have it. It is a big challenge for doctors’ offices to share information effectively. Make sure that you have all your test results so that you can always give your provider what she needs. You can get them mailed or handed to you as hard copies, e-mailed in digital form, or handed to you on a disk or flash drive. If you have been at this for a few years, go back now to past providers and ask for copies of important results.
It is also very helpful to pull together the information that only you have, like your medical history and a current list of medications, and have it all in one place to hand over to providers when necessary.
Step 2. Understand the Information
Test results, medication directions, articles on new treatments, and other medical information can be confusing. Get help to understand them. Ideally have a copy of them in hand when you meet with your providers so that you can take notes directly on them. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarifications or repeated explanations.
Step 3. Organize the Information
It is enormously helpful to have all of this information well-organized in one place. Although it may seem old-fashioned, a three-ring notebook or a file box can be the best thing for the job. That way you can look through items easily and quickly pull them out for providers to copy or review during an office visit. Having items on a flash drive for providers who store all their data online can be extremely helpful as well. In addition to the information listed in yesterday’s entry to bring to all appointments, other items that are helpful to include in your notebook, file box or flash drive are:
- Your notes on each medical appointment, generally taken on the page of questions that you brought to the appointment.
- Your research notes on various treatments.
- Any articles on your health condition that you would like to discuss.
- Tools like: pouch for holding business cards or brochures. Pens for you and your buddy. Three-hole punch for putting in new info.
If, like me, you are not a super-organized person by nature, ask a more organized friend or family member to come over for a couple of hours to help you begin to put your information together.
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Get a notebook and three-hole punch or a file box and folders and begin putting your information into it in organized sections. Make one list of what information you need to get from where (like lab results) and another list of what information you need to create (like a list of current medications and supplements.)
This is the 23rd in a series of excerpts from the first section, Take Charge, of my new book, Everyday Healing. To start your journey on Day 1 and read the whole book: Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge and Get Your Health Back . . . One Day at a Time please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookstore to pick up your copy today.
As always, if you have any thoughts, feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let’s talk!
To your health,