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Paging Dr. You


Protect Your Health With a Medical Resume

After a few years of living with a chronic illness, I realized that I could not provide a new doctor with my critical health information – not from memory, anyway. I became very frustrated with filling out new “medical history” forms at each doctor’s office. I could not keep track of everything related to my illness, such as medication, tests and rehabilitation therapies.

At that time, it also became apparent to me that I could not rely on my doctors to retrieve my history on their computers. It seems that most doctors keep very little electronic patient info – and that’s if they use a computerized system at all. The majority of hospital emergency rooms do not have a copy of patient records.

According to a program on CBC Radio One, “the scale and impact of medical errors are staggering.” Dr. Brian Goldman, the program’s host, cited a 1999 report from the U.S.-based Institute of Medicine that estimated as many as 98,000 people die in hospital each year in the States due to preventable human errors. In 2007, a report on patient safety by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) revealed that one in 10 patients receives the wrong medication or dose, and another one in 10 acquires an infection while in hospital.

The statistics are daunting. I knew that I had to have some sort of system in place, since my case is so complicated and I am at high risk for errors like adverse drug reactions. On two separate occasions, fellow encephalitis survivors mentioned that I needed to write a “medical resumé.” At first, I thought they were joking, but then I realized there might be something to the idea, and that having all my medical information in one concise document could prevent errors and help health-care professionals do their job. I visualized it like a job resumé, starting like this:

Job Applied For: Chronically Ill Patient
Employment History: 1996–present: chronically ill person, part-time freelance writer
Education: 12 years of on-the-job training as a chronically ill person

I encourage you to write out information about your illness using a traditional resumé or CV format. Elaborate on your experiences in each of the sections. Have some fun with it. After all, on some days, living with a chronic illness is like having a full-time job! It’s not a job I signed up for, but what the heck – I might as well make the most of it and try to find the humourous side to the situation.

What works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Since my working career was as an archivist, I have created my own techniques that work for me when it comes to the organizing, sorting and saving of paper.

My medical resumé is a summary of all of my important health information that I would need to share with a new doctor or take with me to an ER. It is important to keep your resumé updated. To get ready for an appointment, I update a section where I describe my current symptoms and medications. (Don’t forget to list your supplements.) I also include a list of all of the doctors who are presently seeing me as their patient, and I write down any questions that I plan to ask at that specific appointment. Then I print a copy and take it with me (and I leave it with the doctor if requested).

In order for me to keep my medical resumé accurate, I had to first organize my medical papers. The initial gathering of the information and the set-up is labour-intensive but well worth it once your system is in place.

I am a great fan of dollar stores, and was able to find folders that have plastic sleeves where I can insert and remove papers quickly and easily. Duo-tang folders don’t work as well since you must mechanically remove and insert any paper, which gets very frustrating. Separate binders with transparent protectors also work well. I use five folders, each one labelled and organized chronologically.

Medication – Both past and present. Get a list from your pharmacy and highlight any that caused problems.

Medical Tests – Ask your GP for paper copies. Most hospitals and imaging centres will provide you with CD copies of any tests (there may be a charge).

Doctors’ Reports – Ask for these, or apply to Medical Records at hospitals to obtain copies. Arrange them chronologically in your folder for easy reference.

Rehabilitation and Therapies – Get reports on-site if possible.

Miscellaneous – Use this folder to file away receipts for medical parking fees and other expenses.

It is advisable to make a copy of your folders (electronically or by photocopying) and store them somewhere other than your home in case of a disaster.

I recently met with a new cardiologist, since my other one had to cut back on patients. The new doctor asked me to bring my medical information to my next appointment. I intend on taking all of my folders plus CDs of my various scans.

As an unexpected benefit to writing my medical resumé and organizing my folders, I feel like I have let go of some of the negativity, grief and trauma related to my medical condition. Seeing all the organized information has validated my experience, and I no longer feel the need to prove my medical history to anyone. My medical resumé was also instrumental both to me and my attorney with regards to getting a small disability pension.

As you can see, organizing your medical info is a low-cost and rewarding project that helps you take charge of your medical experience. It is a very positive thing to do.

Organizing your medical information can help you take charge of your health

Organizing your medical information can help you take charge of your health


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