There have been many times when skills above being a “patient” have helped me navigate the mess that is our American healthcare system. While I am better understanding what it means to be pre-diabetic for example, I am convinced that it takes at least some college education to get the basics done! The following skills are critical.
Get lots of manila folders in January every new year and label them by categories that make sense to you. For me that means Medications/Supplements, Clinical Summaries, Insurances, Test Results, and one for any new, major diagnosis. Then I have a master notebook with the latest test results that I developed in preparation for a comprehensive evaluation at the Mayo Clinic. While most major healthcare organizations have online patient portals with all of our test results, sometimes your provider (Doctor or other skilled professional) will not be able to access them. Streamline each medical consult by having copies of pertinent reports with you at each appointment. This is particularly true when crossing over from one healthcare organization to another to see a particular specialist. GET YOUR OWN COPY of scans on DVD and go to medical records for the paper reports after each major test, test procedure, or medical procedure. Consider scanning them into Word files for when you are communicating with providers online. Searching for test results on your smart phone via the respective organization’s patient portal could be helpful but you will waste precious time with said provider. Your appointment may be over by the time you log in and access the data!
I first learned about organization when organizing ceramic molds for an occupational therapy department in a mental health hospital as a high school graduate. The patient groups ran more effectively thereafter and my supervisors were thrilled. As time went on it became clear that my love for office supply stores, blank CDs/DVDs, then little thumb drives were good things.
Put Stuff Away
For us, each year of non-medical records gets put into the same box as the same year of tax records. We keep only the past two years of tax record boxes in our home office and the rest go into the attic. After seven years the boxes can get shredded, burned, or otherwise destroyed (if we ever get around to it!). Pertinent folders relating to test results and medical conditions get filed in 4-drawer file cabinets that are alphabetized. Yes, this includes if our files spill-over into more than one file cabinet (as we have 5 of them!). A to C now takes up just one of these cabinets and may change when folders that are no longer needed will get purged. Yes, we don’t buy more file cabinets anymore; I just purge outdated information at least annually and especially when there is no more room for new records. Think it is outdated to worry about paper records? I disagree. There will always be important mail, receipts, reports, legal documents, and other pieces of paper to manage.
Any documents stored on our desktop (or laptop if we had one) should get dumped into an extra, external hard drive (our preference). These can be programmed to backup automatically weekly or to a cloud service in real time.
The importance of filing paperwork for quick access became a critical asset just 2 months ago that could serve to extend my life. I was filing some CT scan reports one weekend when I noticed that NO ONE had followed up on the finding of a new pancreatic cyst. This type of finding requires swift and specialized follow-up which began two days later. I am now in a 6-month surveillance program to make sure the particular type of cyst does not advance into cancer (that is highly fatal). Keeping-and-following good records is as important as the healthcare you seek and doing so could save your life!
We all probably have our favorite place to record information, whether it is on a smart phone app, calendar, daily planner, etc. The key is to be consistent: use the same method all of the time. My Mom was the queen of taking notes on partial slips of paper scattered on the back half of the kitchen counter! Her address “book” was a drawer beyond the sink filled with torn corners of paper, some tucked into the address book with a rubber band around it and some just stacked above or below it. She took out the piles each December to write her Christmas cards and vowed to update the address book before the holiday returned the next year. She never got it done. It was through these handwritten notes we combed when she passed away to make sure that important people in her life were contacted. And it was only then that I came to appreciate seeing her penmanship on pages yellowed, torn, stained, and re-used, that her system really did work for her over her entire life.
Date everything. Write down who you talked to and the phone number you called. Record the prices quoted, deadlines, and most importantly: what to do next. This way the next time you see your note-taking system on a particular topic, you can pick up and continue where the activity last ended. My Mom was an office manager and would probably find me to be a bit compulsive to include all of these data points in my note-taking and filing systems. But I submit to your that our healthcare and the complexity of life require it these days.
I learned the importance of good note-taking when trying to get some specialized cranio-mandibular care covered by any one of 3 insurance companies. I spent dozens and dozens of hours with what became a 2-inch thick folder of notes, letters, and statements accumulated over a year and a half to account for over $5,000 in out-of-pocket charges. I just knew that if some of the charges were coded correctly and sent to the correct payer, we could get such specialized care covered. I was wrong. We have received around $300 in reimbursement! I didn’t know that nearly all of my efforts would be wasted when the original provider offered to help but would not bill insurance directly . . . then did bill two of them . . . using either incorrect or out-of-date codes . . . over and over again. It was a nightmare for all of us involved.
As I write this, there’s a pile of 5 1/2 pages of billing statements, flyers, and notes stapled together and sitting next to me covered with handwritten notes regarding some new medical equipment. So the saga continues yet already I have had $20.28 in charges reversed. Along the way I asked to talk to a supervisor. Yes, I’ve learned who gets what done, aided by my 30+ years working in healthcare myself followed by 8 years of battling a serious illness and its subsequent paperwork. Organize, put stuff away (but not without looking at them first and periodically thereafter) and take notes. Then blog about it or comment below. I’d love to hear from you Gentle Reader. :JJ