If you suffer from what most doctors consider a "rare" or unheard of medical condition, chances are, you have been to more than your fair share of doctors in order to get a valid diagnosis, and if you're lucky, maybe even get some treatment. And if your experience has been anything like mine, you may not even be able to remember exactly how many doctors you've been to. I've been to about 25 different practitioners in a three year period. Between a massage therapist I only visited once, to an acupuncturist I saw dozens of times, I know my medical history is floating around out there all over the place, and certainly not just confined to my PCP's office. The funny thing is, I have seen very few of my own medical records; which I admit is entirely my own fault. It is the patient's responsibility to request and collect them. Doctors don't typically offer them up unless you submit a formal request which often involves paying the doctor's office a fee for the copies. I still need to take the time to contact all these doctors offices and gather my records from each and every place I have been a patient at in the past few years. Be forewarned: gathering your medical records, even from just one office, can sometimes be a time-consuming and frustrating process. One where you may have to deal with incompetent office personnel and wait a ridiculous amount of time to receive your records. Be patient, but also be persistent: conduct frequent follow-up phone calls to ensure that your requests weren't forgotten and that your medical records are on their way. Arrange to pick them up by a certain date if possible, that way they are operating under a deadline instead of mailing them out at their own convenience. Once you receive your records, it is important to review them carefully. If you notice any gaps, missing records, untrue or incomplete information, be sure to file a complaint with your insurance company, medical board, and if necessary, contact a lawyer if there is evidence of slander or negligence in your files. This doesn't happen often, but if it does, it's important that you take the appropriate steps to correct the problem.
By now you may be wondering exactly why gathering your medical records is so very important. Other than satisfying your own curiosity, having your medical records on hand serves some very valuable purposes.
1) Lawsuits. Whether you are filing for one, or involved in one, the first thing most lawyers will request is your medical records--whether the case directly concerns your medical history or not. After my car accident, I had to release some of my medical records to lawyers for review. Therefore, it is beneficial to know what doctors are actually saying about you.
2) Provide Documentation for Disability. When applying for disability, your medical records will be under scrutiny to ensure that you are a deserving recipient and are actually unable to work. Your medical records will either help to support or refute your claim.
3) Track your own progression over time. You should know your own medical history like the back of your hand to save yourself from repeating unnecessary costly medical tests and to avoid potentially preventable medication allergies and reactions. It can also be beneficial to access your old blood work records and test results to see how things have improved or declined over time.
4) Protect your reputation as a patient. It may be important to know what your doctor really thinks of you. If he really thinks you are a hypochondriac but doesn't ever say it to your face, that information may be following you around from doctor to doctor for years to come via your medical files. Reading the doctor's comments is also a great way to get to know him better. Does he take thorough notes after each appointment, or only jot down a few key words each time? Generally, the more detailed notes, the better.
5) For tax write-off purposes. If you itemize deductions on your income tax, things like dental work and chiropractic care may be able to be written off at a small percentage. Talk to your accountant for more details.