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Organize your family's health information

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Managing health data

Keeping track of your own health history is challenging enough. Was it 1994 or 1996 that you had shingles? Trying to manage it for a whole family can be downright daunting! Even though computerized records promise to have all the details at our fingertips, you may not always have access to complete records, especially if you switch providers or move. It’s as important to keep track for ourselves of who had what vaccine and when and the name of the doctor who operated on your daughter when she had emergency surgery on vacation.

organizing medical records

Actually organizing all that data, however…well, you may not know where to begin! Where do you even start? And do you really need to? Yes, you need to. You need to have an understanding of where you've been to make the best decisions going forward.

Declare a health day

Declare a day to gather all the information you have and organize your family's health data. Figure out who has had what appointment, who is due for a checkup and who needs what prescription refills. Write down histories of illnesses and injuries and preventive care.

Handheld or handwritten

There are many ways to keep track of this information. You could, for example, keep a handwritten health journal at home -- something you can grab on the way to the doctor's office each visit.

With the rise of smart phones, you may choose to keep some of that information literally in the palm of your hand. If your phone is always on your person, it may be handier than trying to remember that journal. Remember that health information is sensitive. If you keep it on your smart phone, consider an app that will let you password-protect it. And don't forget to back up the data to a secure home computer.

Start with the basics, fill in details

Wherever you choose to record it, start with the most basic of information: Vital statistics. Name, birth date, birth place and so on. Also record names and addresses of medical care providers seen. If medical records need to be acquired later, you'll know where to go.

Fill in the details with things like illnesses, injuries, vaccinations and so on. Once you begin thinking about these details, you may be kind of shocked at the amount of data there is! Complete records help you and future care providers know what has happened before so the best decisions can be made going forward. They also help you recognize patterns, if they exist, that may indicate other issues.

Tie it to a calendar

If you choose to keep your family's data online in some way, you may be able to tie certain data to your calendar. No more forgetting that annual checkup with the allergist! As you write down the family's health history, make notations in the calendar for prescription refills, when to get forms for camp and so on.

With the rise of computerized systems, your or your child's healthcare providers may have schedules ready months in advance. Take the time now to make some or all of your family's needed checkups for a year.

Keep it up

Now that you have made the effort to organize all this information, keep it up-to-date. When things happen -- as they inevitably will -- update the date to reflect the changes or new information. Perhaps you can put it on your calendar as a once a month task (same day as your monthly bills?) so that we are reminded to do it.

Keeping track of health history is almost as important as those yearly checkups. Having an understanding of where all of you have been can help you make the best medical decisions -- in collaboration with your medical care providers -- going forward. It may help keep all of you healthier.

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