Communication could be the riskiest procedure in medicine. Researchers estimate that nearly eight million drug side effects could be prevented or resolved each year if doctors and patients communicated better (Archives of Internal Medicine, Jan. 24, 2005). They encourage doctors to let patients know what side effects to watch out for and patients to tell their doctors what symptoms they experience.
Drug reactions are not the only hazard. Investigators have found that some physicians fail to alert patients about abnormal test results (Archives of Internal Medicine, June 22, 2009). In disorganized practices, nearly one fourth of clinically important lab findings never made it to the patients’ attention.
That is why it is so important to keep track of your own health records. People who don’t bother to balance their checkbooks or monitor expenses may bounce checks. When the bank catches the problem, there is usually a big penalty.
Patients who don’t know what’s in their medical records or who are not aware of abnormal test results may also be in for a shock. Not learning that the level of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone, a measure of thyroid function) has risen well above normal might mean a person would suffer needlessly from symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, depression, hair loss and constipation.
It takes effort to overcome failures of communication. One tool is keeping track of your own health records. Mikey, a visitor to our website, offers the following example:
“I started accumulating my personal medical information in earnest about 10 years ago, and aggressively maintaining it about five years ago. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Lab results are especially tricky but important.
“The net of all this effort is that I now have a rather complete record, with several variables (e.g., BP, cholesterol, PSA) graphed over time for quick analysis. When my PSA started to rise quickly, it was easy to see and resulted in early confirmation and cure of prostate cancer. I take the complete history with me to every medical appointment, with a summary that I can give the provider.
“This shows that one can take the trouble to develop and maintain a complete history on your own. It may actually help in some instances. It’s a fun exercise, and you will die leaving a well-documented, if not beautiful, body.”
When people keep good records like Mikey does, they can track lab results more readily, as he did with his PSA. This is especially important for people with complicated or chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
To make it easier to keep track of important data, we have created a free one-page form for medical history.
Having your health information organized in one place can be helpful for you, your doctor and your family. Letting your children and grandchildren know about your health conditions can help them plan preventive strategies for themselves.