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The Divide Between You And Your Medical Records

You have a right to your medical record. It’s true –- the record of every test and procedure you’ve had done, any films or studies, your doctors notes — it’s all yours if you ask for it. But it’s not that simple.

If you’re sick, your “record” is likely in pieces in lots of different places. Some of it is in paper files and computers in the offices of each of your doctors, or in the clinics where you had a test or procedure. It’s in multiple computer systems in a hospital, or in a folder in a radiology department, a container in a pathology department, or the computer system of a pharmacy. Each of these places has their own policy or procedure if you want your record. There are forms you have to fill out, fees you have to pay, time you have to wait.

So while you have a “right” to your records, for practical purposes, you’re going to have a very difficult time actually getting them. (By the way, this is something our team at Best Doctors does very well.) But let’s say you actually get all of your medical records. Now what?

A national study called OpenNotes, is trying to find out what happens when patients get easy, rapid access to their records -– or at least their doctors’ notes. The early results are mixed. Some patients say it helps them understand what’s going on. But some doctors say it leads to extra time with worried patients, adding to doctors’ already heavy case loads. The final results will yield better insight into both of these issues.

But it all reveals a larger issue: There’s a divide between you, your doctor, and your medical information.

As your doctor opens up his or her paper file and logs into his local computer system to reacquaint himself or herself with you, he or she is looking only at a fragmented piece of your medical history. He or she is likely missing valuable pieces of context about you. Those gaps may not matter very much. But they might.

All of this is an argument for having electronic medical records, and of course billions of dollars are being spent on this. But all you have to do is spend time in a hospital or a doctor’s office to know that we are a very, very long way away from making this a reality. And so as a patient, one of the most important things you can do is exercise your right to get your records. Make sure you understand what they say, and use every resource at your disposal to make sure you get the care you deserve.

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

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