Your Health: Having a copy of your medical records can save your life

Having now represented individuals injured as the result of medical error for ten years (following 25 years doing corporate litigation), I now have a degree of insight into the medical profession that few non-medical professionals will likely obtain. That knowledge has led me to the conclusion that everyone must take an active role in the health care decisions that ultimately may impact their very lives.

I recently read a book by Patrick Malone, a highly regarded attorney who represents individuals injured by medical error entitled “The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care-and Avoiding the Worst” (Da Capo Lifelong Books 2009) which I heartily recommend that everyone read. Please note that Kaplan & Lukowski, its attorneys and staff have no professional connection to Mr. Malone and receive no compensation for recommending his book.

We believe that the material contained in Mr. Malone’s book is important since we all deal with the medical profession and we all need to be proactive in protecting our health. In this series of posts we will summarize the important points outlined by Mr. Malone.

The first step is to make sure you have all of your medical records. We all know that doctors and hospitals keep records of our visits. What is less well known is that you have the absolute right to obtain a full and complete set of your own medical records. The only way to insure that all of your medical records are available for future use is to obtain and keep copies yourself. How many of us have lived in different cities? How many of us have changed doctors, often because our health insurance changed? How many of us have gone to doctors who have died or whose practices have closed? Only by making sure that we get and keep copies of our medical records can we be sure that they will be available in the future.

Why, one may ask, is it important for my doctors to have my old medical records? The simple answer is the changes in our medical history can be crucial. How does an EKG compare with one taken a few years earlier? A doctor can view the same EKG differently depending on whether it represents a change from the earlier test, or whether it is similar. A doctor will want to know if blood tests results have changed over time. Have your bad cholesterol numbers gone up or down? A man’s PSA level may be within normal range, but still reflect a significant increase from levels seen a few years earlier. It is these types of changes in our medical history that are important to our doctors, and the only way to make sure that our doctors have those records is to get and keep a full set for yourself.

Any doctor will tell you that your medical history is probably the most important element in determining diagnosis and treatment. Do not expect your doctor to know your medical history. It’s your responsibility to make sure that all of your doctors know your medical history.