Years ago, my mother visited me from Orlando. She always presented herself as healthy, athletic, and bone-lean since she comes from great genetic stock. Her Japanese father died at 100 years old. Three days before his death, he was still digging in the garden and his brain was as sharp as a thirty-year-old. Her mother, a French and British American, lived to be 96 with very little sickness until the last year. I assumed that my 74 year old Mother would continue to live a long and healthy life.
The evening she arrived, I commented that she looked a little tired and had a nagging cough. She laughed and told me that wasn’t enough to get between her and watching Colin Firth for five hours in Pride and Prejudice. I knew she would doze by the end of the first hour, but I made sandwiches, brought the pie that had been cooling in the refrigerator, and settled down for a happy, quiet, evening with my best friend.
Before we even got to Mr. Darcy’s pond scene, my mother suddenly dragged herself to her feet and said, “Honey, I don’t feel well” before crashing to the ground in a seizure. I tried not to panic as I pulled her to the middle of the floor away from tables, grabbed my phone, and held her flailing head in my lap while I frantically called 911. After a long five minutes, I heard the sirens. I grabbed a pillow, put it under her head, and ran for the door to open it and leave it open while I ran back, crashing into the table and then a wall in my panic. The EMT’s were incredibly wonderful and while they worked on her, they fired away questions about her health.
“Is your Mother an epileptic?” No
“Does your Mother have any chronic conditions? Has she been sick?” I don’t know. Yes, high blood pressure. Sick, I don’t know.
“What medicines does she take?” I don’t know, I don’t know, Vasotec I think, for her high blood pressure?
“Is she allergic to any medicines?” I don’t know, I don’t think so…she’s allergic to ant bites and I don’t know about medications.
“Who is her primary care doctor?” I don’t know. She’s visiting me from Orlando. She lives with my Sister. I’ll call her. I don’t know where my phone is.
“It’s in your lap”. I’ll follow you in my car.
We soon found out that my beloved mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. The cells had metastasized to her brain, liver, and kidneys. And she did not have much time according to the emergency room doctor.
After her death 18 months later, I have never stopped feeling guilty that I DID NOT KNOW. I didn’t know her medications, her allergies, or who her doctor was.
We all get busy. We have a thousand things a day to think about and do and almost none of it involves the thought that we are not prepared for emergencies. We assume that our insurance companies have all our health records compiled for easy access. How naive we all are!
I have Tricare insurance. They give me access to a portal. That portal has information from the two hospitals I frequented in Miami, but doesn’t have vital information from an out of network hospital when I was treated in Minnesota. And I don’t know how to access it from my cellphone. I don’t even begin to know how to access my husband’s health information. And it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t know the medications he takes. And he certainly doesn’t know what I take.
In the midst of a global pandemic that no one was prepared for, knowing our health information becomes even more important. How many of us have gone to the hospital with a family member and had similar questions and more asked while we were confused and anxious?
The days of having one primary care doctor that followed you for your whole life are gone. Most care involves multiple primary care physicians and specialists who can change for many reasons such as a move or a new insurance company where they are out of network. Electronic health records are recent and interoperability is still a problem. If you change insurance companies you may lose track of your patient portal. Add visits to urgent care, emergency rooms, and hospitals to the mix and the uncomfortable reality is that no single health entity has all our records. Keeping track of your health history is up to you.
Here is a basic list of information that you need.
- A list of current medications, including vitamins and supplements that can interact with prescription drugs.
- Your pharmacy information.
- A description of your chronic medical conditions and treatments that you tried that worked or didn’t work. And your blood type.
- A copy of the last two years of bloodwork.
- A list of immunizations.
- A log of past procedures, out-patient and in-patient.
- A copy of recent tests to provide a baseline for a doctor to get a picture of your overall health.
- Current insurance information.
- Emergency contacts with numbers to call.
- Current physicians and specialists with office numbers to call.
Please stay up to date by filing information each time you see a doctor, get blood work, or receive a new prescription. In an emergency, it can mean the difference between good care and uninformed care. And finally, I would suggest you keep it in a secure cloud storage application that is readily available. With full transparency, I am the CEO of SpeechMED. We’ve built a easy to use portal that not only keeps your records but reads them out loud in the language you or a loved one understands, with a short setup time that costs 20 cents a day. The most important thing is you and your family’s health. When you are in a health emergency, instead of saying “I don’t know” you’ll be able to say “Yes, I have that information ready for you.”