Getting a Copy of Your Medical Records may not seem to be important, but the fact is, it could save your life. Many patient advocates now recommend that everyone keep an up-to-date medical file for their own personal records. Here are 5 Reasons why you should always get your own copies of medical records, lab reports and diagnostic studies.

1. Puts you on More Equal Footing: It allows you to remain a partner in your health care rather than rely on a 3rd party, ie: a nurse or your doctor calling you to “give” you your results. You will have the results so that if you have questions about the reported information you can educate yourself and/or ask more specific questions about your health and health status.

2. Gives you a Backup: Records get lost or destroyed. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, there were thousands of patients whose medical records were permanently lost. Not all medical practices have electronic backups of records and sometimes even electronic copies can be problematic, so it is always best to have your own copy of your medical record.

3. Questioning Normal Results: If you are ever in a position where you do not feel well, yet your doctor tells you everything is “normal” with your laboratory results, then it is even more important for you to review your results and analyze them. Kathy, a patient who had headaches and weight gain over a 2 year period, was told by her physician that it was “normal” to gain weight as a woman in one’s 40’s and since he could not find anything “wrong” with her, suggested perhaps Kathy was depressed and/or peri-menopausal. Come to find out, Kathy had a brain tumor that was causing her pain and symptoms and aging and or peri-menopause had nothing to do with her symptoms.

4. Continuity of Care: If you ever need a second opinion or need to see another doctor or specialist, having your records already gathered can save stress and may even be life saving if you need medical treatment fast for a particular condition. Adam, a patient whose cancer had returned, did indeed need a second opinion, and his parents requested copies of previous medical records and radiology reports from the doctors and hospitals which had treated him years earlier for cancer. After multiple calls to several different doctors offices and hospitals, his mother waited on pins and needles for the UPS overnight packages containing her son’s records to arrive. Trouble was, somehow UPS lost the shipment, so she had to start all over and request the records again, wait for them to be sent to her, so that she could then make additional copies and send them to several different specialists. If Adam’s mom had her own copies of the records, she could have sent out the overnight packages herself immediately instead of waiting for each prior provider to gather the records, package them, and ship them out.

5. Helps Reduce Errors or Omissions in your Care: Most of us think that if something is “wrong” our doctor’s office will call us. In some cases this may be correct, but in today’s chaotic, fast paced health care system, there are numerous possibilities for errors. If you know what tests were done and you do not get the copies of the specific tests that were performed, then it gives you the opportunity to be in the driver’s seat and to call your doctor to inquire if the test results are back and if so, to please send you the copy via mail or fax. Amy, a patient whose laboratory results had previously shown a strong possibility of cancer, had some tests redone. When she did not hear anything from the doctor’s office about the results, she called the lab and found out that there was a problem with the results, and she had to come back in for another blood draw and have the test repeated yet another time. The doctor’s office had never called her even though the lab had reported the test as a “redo” and Amy had been waiting anxiously for weeks to hear what the results were. Because she finally called on her own she was able to find out that there was a problem with the collection of the blood sample and get herself scheduled at a different laboratory for the re-draw and find out that the repeated test did not show any cancer. In the event that something is amiss with your lab results or even if everything is perfectly fine, having you as the patient make sure that you receive all results gives another check and balance to a strained health care system.

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