A caregiver assisting a senior woman walking down the street.

Compiling your personal medical history is important now and especially if you are elderly.

I can’t speak for the rest of you, yet for me as I age, I have found that the number of doctors and thus the number of medical records have been increasing almost geometrically year after year. Compilation can be cumbersome.

Recently I thought, “What a mess my medical history must look like” – however, I really did not understand what those records actually looked like until this past year when I was required to renew my Coast Guard license. That process forced me into compiling not only my most recent medical records, but those from many years ago. Needless to say, it was not an easy process.

So let’s take a look at this tedious process, as it is truly a time saver to have these records readily at hand; not only you, but for those who may need to treat you.

There are several viable reasons for compiling your medical records and having them on hand (well actually, not literally “on hand,” but in your safe-deposit box would be much better):

  • Your doctor may sell his practice, retire, move, or any number of actions which might have your records relocated or lost
  • Your medical records might be damaged by a natural disaster: flood, fire, hurricane, tornado, etc.\
  • Records deteriorate, get stolen, or even can be misfiled

Similar to the IRS, records are only required to be kept for a certain number of years. From a medical practice standpoint, the same is true for patient records. What would happen if you, after 20 years, needed to obtain your records and your physician told you that he or she no longer had them because records after 15 years are discarded? Perhaps you have not been an active patient for more than 5 years, what happens then?

Nowadays, when you go to your physician for any reason, you are asked to sign a healthcare privacy statement as required by the recent HIPAA law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This is a good thing as it protects your records from getting randomly sent to anyone who asks for them, which occasionally happened in the past. The Act allows you to obtain your records, which of course you should do for the reasons stated above.

To actually compile your records, a simple file folder is a good beginning. Many of us have a personal file system in our homes that we keep paid bills, menus for take-out food, etc. This is not a bad place to begin, however, a word of caution: your medical records contain very confidential information and leaving them in a general filing cabinet leaves you open to unwanted, if truly accidental, viewing of those records. That said, one could plausibly argue that this is better than not having them on hand at all. I believe having all confidential, personal, and financial records in a safe deposit box is a must.

You could opt for storing your records on the Internet. Not sure about you, but I’m not yet sold on Internet tools for saving personal or business files . . . I still haven’t figured out where the Internet really is, and without having a solid concrete and steel building to touch, somehow things just don’t seem real to me (that’s right, you’ll have to drag me into the techie world).

Vast array of Internet storage options do work rather well.
Keep in mind though, not only should you have personal medical records for yourself, but you should also have them for your entire family. And you should store them together for easy access. It would also be wise to let your family know where those records are, so in case of an emergency involving you, your records could be obtained by medical and legal professionals.

Finally, how does one go about obtaining such records?

According to the article, “How to Get a Copy of Your Medical Records,” there are six steps that should ensure a certain level of ease when it comes to obtaining these records:

  1. Get a list of all medical providers that you would like medical records from
  2. Write out a medical release stating that you would like your records released to you and you alone\
  3. In your letter, specify the effective dates
  4. Call each office and ask them how much they will charge you for a copy of your records
  5. Ask each office when you could reasonably expect the copies to be ready for pickup and set a date with them\
  6. On the specified date, take in your medical release and a check for the full amount of the copies

For additional information, like pulling up forms and information you may need to obtain your medical records (i.e., form letter to send to your medical providers), check out these websites: and .

Remember, no one is going to do this for you (or is even allowed to do it for you). For all of us, at some point in time, you or one of your loved ones will need to access your medical records. Having this information at home or on hand is a must. Start this process yesterday.

If you're interested in more information about how in-home care can help your senior loved ones, contact your nearest Visiting Angels office today or call 800-365-4189.
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