Making an appointment to address a health issue seems simple enough in theory. But as many of us know, it can actually get complicated really fast.
This is particularly true when you’re juggling multiple specialists or trying to find a general physician that’s best suited for you. Heck, it can even be challenging to recall what past conditions or issues you’ve dealt with when your doctor asks. When it comes down to it, you need to be your own case manager ― especially when it comes to keeping track of your medical history.
Gathering (and remembering!) your whole health history ― which can include vaccines, diagnoses, prescriptions and tests you’ve had ― can seem daunting. But there are actually several resources that can help you keep tabs on it.
Below are just a few ways you can get ahold your health history and keep track of it in the future:
Try a (secure!) app
There are apps and online services on the market that make it easier than ever to access your medical records and get a clear picture of your entire health history.
“While nearly all health records are now created in an electronic format, many organizations continue to share this information in a way that does not capitalize on the true value of the electronic record,” said Julie Demaree, a physician assistant in Saratoga Springs, New York.
That’s why Demaree works with Hixny, an online health care portal for patients in parts of the Northeast and Canada that allows them to access records. She hopes that all medical practices start to use tools like this to make things easier for patients.
PicnicHealth is another option, if you’re up for paying a monthly subscription fee (the service is $33 per month along with a records retrieval fee when you first sign up). The San Francisco-based company aggregates all your health records and transcribes them into a visual, interactive timeline that both you and your doctors can access. You give the service permission to contact your doctors’ offices, and from there, they continually update it.
“When you get sick, there are a million things on your mind,” said PicnicHealth co-founder Noga Leviner. “The hassle of getting copies of your records shouldn’t have to be another stressor. … With the service, we do everything we can to make sure paperwork and medical records aren’t another thing you have to worry about.”
As someone who lives with Crohn’s disease, Leviner understands the overwhelming experience of managing a complex medical case firsthand.
“When I was first diagnosed … I assumed one doctor would keep a complete file of my medical records and would make sure that all the other doctors I visited were up to date on my condition,” she said. “Instead, the enormous responsibility of collecting, organizing and effectively communicating my medical history fell solely on me.”
If you have an iPhone, the Health app may also be a resource to access some of your records for free. If you are part of a medical group that ties into the app directly (for example, Scripps Medical Group or LabCorp), you can connect your patient portal to the Health app and see your records there.
There’s also LabFinder, which is an online service that has “no fee for the patients, unlimited storage and also is a convenient appointment management system,” explained Robert Segal, a New York-based cardiologist and co-founder of LabFinder. “A patient can book a lab or radiology test, manage their test results and help to avoid surprise medical bills since patients can make sure that their insurance is in-network before they even go for the test.”
There are plenty more app options on the market as well, Demaree said. Do your research and see what aligns with your interests. But whichever you choose, you’ll want to make sure you’re dealing with a secure platform and a company that’s compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal medical privacy law, so you know your medical information is safe.
“While there is no standard HIPAA ‘certification,’ companies can show proof of third-party audits that were completed to assess the protections in place,” explained Greg Burrell, a San Francisco-based physician and vice president of clinical product at Carbon Health. In other words, services you use should be able to prove they’re a secure company.
Ask your doctor if they have a lab portal
Segal said that a lab portal is “an online storage unit where centers can store test results and patients can access them anytime.” However, there can be a caveat: Segal noted that even though there are many doctors and specialists who have this service through their offices, there’s a chance they operate independently and don’t communicate with each other.
“So if a patient decides to book an X-ray on company A, and book a blood test on company B, the patient would have to access their results in two different websites or platforms,” he said.
Lab portals can generally be useful if your doctor keeps yours up to date. Just make sure you don’t try to decipher the results that are posted on the site on your own.
“There is no interpretation of what the results mean, just raw data,” explained Inna Husain, a Chicago-based otolaryngologist. “So important to discuss significance of results with your physician.”
Check with your state’s health department for vaccination records
You might also be curious about what immunizations you’ve had, haven’t received or need an update on ― and unsure where to find that information. Asking your former caregivers is a good place to start, but sometimes that’s not always an option. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some state health departments keep registries that include adult and children’s vaccine records.
If you’re still not able to track down what shots you’ve had, your doctor may be able to perform blood tests to see what immunizations are in your system. They can help create a specific vaccine plan from there. Just make sure to get them recorded so you know for the future.
Finally, reach out to your old doctors
It’s not ideal, but you can call up every single place you’ve visited yourself. Federal law does entitle you to copies of your medical records.
“Under the federal HIPAA privacy rule, patients have the right to access or obtain paper or electronic copies of their health records,” Segal said. “These records include medical test results, doctor’s notes, lab reports and even billing information.”
This will potentially involve phone calls, faxes and letters that include information like your Social Security number, dates of visits and signatures. Usually a health care provider will tell you what details you must provide. Sometimes there may be a small fee associated with certain requests, depending on the provider, Husain said.
“Unfortunately, some health systems will only provide it in paper form versus a digital copy,” Burrell added, noting that it can also often take up to 30 days to receive some information. “Health systems are not allowed to charge you for the record, but some hospitals charge a ‘printing fee’ of around 25 cents [per page] that can certainly add up.”
This all, of course, can be taxing. Especially when you’re in the midst of dealing with a medical diagnosis.
“At a time when I felt debilitated, when I was still adjusting to a new reality from my diagnosis, I had to fill out endless record request forms, wait in record request lines, call to make sure all my information had been faxed on time and then remember to bring every note, every lab report, every X-ray to my next appointment,” Leviner said.
But now once you gather the information, there are tools to keep it stored in one place for easy access. Thanks to advances in technology (like apps and portals) and a greater focus on this issue, streamlined record access is more possible than ever.
Experts say you can expect to see even more developments in this market in the coming months and years. Many physicians want more people feel like they have control over their own health history and information.
“Our goal is for patients to feel empowered in their health. Data accessibility plays a critical role in ensuring this,” said Jonathan Slotkin, a neurosurgeon at Geisinger Health in Pennsylvania. “Recent innovations have given patients much greater control of their information and what they choose to do with it.”