Why Keep a Medical History?

You may have a new doctor because you moved or changed health plans. You may have a new health condition that needs a specialist’s care. Any doctor you see, especially if it’s a new one, needs to know about your medical history, including your family medical history.

The information you provide can help you:

  • Work with your doctor to stay healthy or diagnose an illness.
  • Avoid drugs that could hurt you. For example, your doctor needs to know if you have drug allergies and what medicines you’re taking to help you avoid potentially bad drug interactions.
  • Make it easier and faster to handle paperwork like filing an insurance claim, appealing a claims decision or disputing billing errors.

What to Track in Your Medical History

Be sure to track:

  • Illnesses and injuries, including dates, symptoms and doctor visits.
  • Treatments and therapies you've had and if they helped or not.
  • Health tests you've taken, including results and any side effects. For example, include any information you have on X-rays, lab work and other test results, surgery reports and immunization records.
  • Current weight.
  • Allergies, including drug allergies.

You may also want to track:

  • Blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol levels.
  • Any test result that was not normal in the past and that may need follow-up testing.
  • Changes in habits, weight, energy level or bodily functions. You can note your current exercise and diet habits, your sleep patterns, and any new or significant stresses in your life.

And even if you don’t have access to family medical records, just knowing family members have had certain diseases can help your doctor watch for risks.

You can give your doctor your history on paper, on a flash drive or even with your smartphone. Some provider networks offer tools (websites, smartphone apps) to track your medical history.

Don’t Have Your Records? Just Ask for Them.

If you never kept any information before, you can still get it. Federal law says doctors have to share your files with you. Even if you don’t remember a doctor’s name, look up the practice and call. Then moving forward, remember to ask for copies of notes and results at each visit.

Keep Your Information Handy and Safe

When you have collected your medical records, it is a good idea to organize them and keep them in a single, secure location, just as you do your passport and other important documents.

Medical issues are sometimes unexpected, so imagine needing to grab your records in a hurry on your way out the door, or even having to ask a family member or friend to find your records for you if you go straight to a doctor or hospital.

If everything is organized and in one spot, you should be in good shape to find them and share them if you need to.

If you prefer paper, consider a trip to your office supply store for various options for folders and labels, self-contained accordion files, or binders and tabs for family files.

If you choose to maintain your records electronically, whether you choose website services or simple folders on your personal computer, be sure to put the same security and privacy protections in place that you would use for any of your most sensitive personal information, like bank records.