A trip to the emergency room made me realize why
caregivers are advised to organize heath information.
Like many caregivers, I share the task of going with my
loved one to appointments. My sister usually takes our
mom to the dentist, audiologist and optometrist. I take
Mom to her physician, dermatologist and podiatrist. We
cover for each other when work or travel demands it. I
felt prepared until an emergency came.
When Mom broke her hip, I called an ambulance. When it
arrived, I confidently recited Momís Medicare number.
When asked what medications she took, I pulled out our
basket of pill bottles. At the hospital, the questions
got more complicated. Still, I knew enough to fill out
the forms. Strangely, as I did the paperwork, I began to
feel sharp pain in my lower belly. I was nauseous and
feverish. I did not know it then, but I would be joining
Mom in the hospital the next day with an emergency of my
own Ė one requiring surgery and a six-day hospital stay.
I realized that my momís care was far too dependent on
facts held only in my head. As primary caregiver, I
managed the insurance, filled prescriptions and kept
doctorsí names and phone numbers in my
password-protected data organizer. I knew I should
organize Momís records, but I didnít know how. As we
both recovered, I looked for an easy way to keep her
health information. I especially wanted an easy way to
share it with others in case I am not around.
I now have a folder for paperwork that is portable and
easy to maintain. It isnít just for emergencies. We take
it to every doctor visit. Now anyone who has the folder
can see when Mom had her last flu shot, what medications
she takes and that she had a malignant mole removed in
1981. We can all see when all medical appointments are
scheduled. Even my brother, who lives at a distance,
could answer medical questions if he had to take Mom to
the doctor while visiting.
Information to collect
You probably have most of this information readily
available. If not, begin with what you have and add
information as you can. Useful information to collect
- Health insurance cards, Medicare cards, and so on
- Appointment reminder cards from health care providers
- A list of medications including dosages, frequency, date
started and reason
- A medical history
- A list of emergency contacts, relationship, addresses
and all phone numbers
- A sheet for recording the date of visits, the provider
and any tests performed or instructions
- Any special logs such as blood pressure readings, blood
sugar levels or symptoms
- A copy of a health care proxy, advanced directives or
- A power-of-attorney, if one is used
Our system has to be easy to update because, like most
caregivers, my family is stretched pretty thin. Here are
some tips for collecting and organizing information:
Use a pocket folder or small three-ring binder that will
hold several pages. We purchased a multi-page
presentation folder with clear pockets from an office
- Use a bold color for the cover, such as red or yellow,
so that it is easy to distinguish from other papers.
- Keep the folder in a handy location, such as a desk
drawer near the entry. Make sure every potential
caregiver knows where it is kept.
- Label the front boldly and clearly Ė EMERGENCY MEDICAL
- Use top loading, clear sheet protectors to hold papers.
These make it easy to remove papers for photocopying or
for handing to a healthcare worker.
- Pick up a business card from each healthcare provider
you see. Cards usually contain the name, specialty,
address, phone and fax number.
- Slip the business cards into vinyl page protectors meant
to hold photos, baseball cards or disks. You can find
three-ring page protectors like these at craft, hobby,
or office supply stores.
- Each time you make an appointment, take the reminder
card or jot the appointment details on a 3X5 card. Slip
these cards into a page protector just as you did the
- Keep old appointment cards if you donít want to take the
trouble of recording visit details elsewhere.
- When you add any information to a document, put the date
at the top of the page to show how current the data is.
- List an out-of-state emergency contact to be used in
case of a widespread disaster.
- Photocopy important pages and cards and keep them
elsewhere for extra protection.
- Search the Internet. Many Web sites provide blank forms
for medical history, medication and other health
What should you keep in a medical history?
- Names of all physicians
- Known allergies or reactions to medications
- Medications including over-the-counter medicines,
vitamins and herbs
- Health conditions and date of diagnosis
- Dates of most recent exams, tests and immunizations
- Dates and reasons for hospitalizations
- Dates and details of surgeries
- Dates and length of major illnesses
- History of smoking and use of alcohol
- Location of living will or medical directives
- History of exposure to dangerous conditions or hazards
- Family history including illnesses or conditions of
parents and siblings
- Cause of death of parents and siblings and their age at
Iím pretty sure that I will never again find Motherís
insurance cards inside an old purse looped over a hanger
in the darkest corner of her closet. I hope I never
again have to phone a doctorís office to relay
information I didnít have with me at the appointment.
But most of all, Iím confident that if Iím not around,
someone else can tell the emergency room doctors what
they need to know about my loved one.
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