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Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
for Better Care

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

A shorter version of this article was printed on page 23 in the September 1, 2010 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

There are multiple ways in which you can be your own best Health Care Advocate. One of the most practical temporary solutions to the continually archaic information transfer system is to keep a simplified version of your health record. This can be easily accomplished with a pre-printed form available through most offices, or more elaborate versions on CD or diskette. These are a godsend when patients with complicated problems, multiple medications and fragile health find themselves in unfamiliar places. Handing one of these to the examining physician will ensure better and perhaps quicker care. Handing it directly to a physician will preserve your confidentiality.

What to include? Start with your name, address, birth date, health card number and contacts numbers as well as those of relatives that would make useful contacts if the need arises. Try to be as concise as possible. Next, write a small 3-4 sentence description of why you are seeking medical assistance. Make simple statements such as "my stomach feels like someone is stabbing it" or "my temperature was 39 C last night". Try not to include trivial things or make diagnoses. Examples of these include "I don't feel well" or "I have the flu". Then go on to list any other health conditions that you suffer, e.g. hypertension, high cholesterols, osteoarthritis, etc. List any medications that you are currently taking, or have recently stopped taking along with the doses and frequency. Include all herbs, vitamins and over the counter medications. State any allergies that you may have. In the next section, I would advise listing all health professionals whom you have seen in the last year or see regularly. Be sure to include their phone numbers, specialties, and the last time you saw them.

This should be followed by any operations that you have had in your lifetime and the approximate year of surgery, including obstetrical procedures for women. In this section, it is useful to include any major injuries and broken bones that you may have suffered. Below this, list as many tests as you can remember, along with the date and location. Examples include: CT-head-2004-Trillium, Ultrasound-kidneys-1996-2000 Credit Valley Rd, Breathing Test-1997, Blood Work-2005-family doctor.

More elaborate versions include information about caffeine, nicotine and alcohol use. Diseases found in your family tree also help. In medical school, students are given a full hour to interview patients and compose this history. In the real world, the average medical interaction for urgent care is measured in minutes. Compiling this record seems like a fair amount of effort, but it pays off in overwhelming dividends, because you receive a better quality of service. Storing the whole thing on a disk, key-fob or re-writable CD, allows for changes to be made as well as uploading medical test data, digital radiological and cardiac images and notes for your family doctor.

This is not a new idea. A health "smart card" which married a microchip into your health card was invented over a dozen years ago, but shelved. It had the ability to download all pertinent information for health-care providers to share. Confidentiality issues in health care are spiraling us into a frenzied paranoia and stifling ventures to provide better health care. Simply read the new "privacy act" legislated a few years ago. The fall out is only in the vestigial stages. The onus has been placed on physicians and institutions to take extraordinary measures to safeguard information. The end result is to generate a new mountain of paperwork on top of the existing mountain, and cripples the ability to share information that may be vital to the maintenance of health. Faxing and photocopying of information has been restricted and made more difficult with the need to have patients sign waivers and cover costs at every instance. My own after-hours clinic can no longer inform me when my patients attend, unless the patient fills out and signs consent. Patients end up unwilling participants alongside their doctors in this paper jungle and waiting rooms are littered with people "safe-guarding" ourselves to death. I think this scheme rates another "tick" on the family doctor extinction clock.

Related resources:

How to Summarize Your Own Medical History from wikiHow.com.

For a Complete Medical History, Compile Your Own Health Records but be Cautious about Storing Them Online from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Medical history: Compiling your medical family tree by Mayo Clinic Staff. "Your family medical history provides insight into the conditions that are common in your family. Use this history to give you clues about your risk of disease."

My Medical History Online. Benefits of having your medical records in your control include: Save critical time in emergencies, Avoid repetitive, costly testing when doctors don't have access to your records, Eliminate the difficulty of remembering important information.

Medical history from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Personal Medical Records: Maintain Your Own Copy of Your Medical History by Kathy Quan. "Take responsibility for your own health status by keeping an up to date copy of your personal health information . . . An accurate and complete medical history can help a physician diagnose and treat a new symptom or condition far better than a physical examination and costly tests."

Tracing Your Family Medical History by Kimberly Powell, About.com Guide. Why is a Family Medical History Important? What Should Be Included in a Family Medical History? How Should I Document My Family Medical History?

Graph Your Medical Data. "It is useful to see a graphical picture of your medical history on a single page, showing the time relationship of your treatments and procedures on your PSA and other test results." PC-REF offers two different graphing services free of charge (but donations welcome), Medical Smart Chart (MSC) (automated) and MultiGraph (manual).

Personal Medical Records from MedlinePlus.

Family Medical Records from eMedicineHealth.

Keeping a Personal Health Record to Insure Proper Health Care from CareCounsel, CARECOUNSEL TIPS: Value of Keeping a Record, Information in a Health Record, Other Documents to Keep in the Record.

Personal Medical Record Form - in PDF. Sample from St. Luke's Episcopal Health System.

Personal Medical Records - Form. Printable sample form from United Services Automobile Association (USAA) Educational Foundation. Contents: Whom to notify in case of emergency, Blood type, Physicians, Insurance information, Medical and mental health, Surgical procedures, Allergies, Medications, Hospitalization or ER visits for other reasons, Test results, Preventive health/Health maintenance, Family history.

Creating a Health Journal includes example of a health journal from familydoctor.org - American Academy of Family Physicians.

Personal health record-keeping gets popular in US from E-Health Insider News.

Your Personal Health Record. Commercial site. Includes some example pages: Who is your emergency contact? What is your cholesterol? What medication are you on? What was your last blood pressure? Are you travelling?

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