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A few months ago I shared with you about the health file I created for my husband. The number one comment I hear from people about that post is, “I would never have thought to do that–but it’s a neat idea, and I’m going to do it now!” Most of the time, a medical crisis leaves you feeling overwhelmed and emotional. “Why did this happen?” is the key phrase going through your mind after an accident or serious illness. But, staying organized during a medical crisis is easy if you keep these nine hacks in mind. (Hopefully, you’ll never need to use them.)
1) Start a File Folder
As soon as you get home from the doctor’s office (or hospital), grab a manila file folder and place the patient’s name on it. Any paperwork related to this issue is placed into this file. If you need to visit more doctors or have tests run, take the folder with you and put all paperwork inside. Be prepared to write on the folder! Jot notes on the outside or inside–don’t worry about neatness, just make it readable. A two-pocket folder (light in color) would be ideal for keeping track of smaller cards and slips of paper. However, if chronic illness strikes, you may need to get a multi-pocket portfolio (like this one, which I highly recommend) just to keep everything organized. Use what works best for you; you just want some place to keep everything so you can find it easily.
Suggestions for things to keep in the folder:
Hospital Discharge Papers and Doctor’s Orders that are Specific to the Patient
Throw out things like the menu, or other ‘general’ hospital info, but keep anything dealing with medications or doctor’s comments.
List of Medications/Supplements/Vitamins Being Taken
Just about every nurse and physician’s assistant will ask for a list of your current medications, including herbal supplements and vitamins. The understanding of how drugs interact with natural remedies is becoming better known. You’ll want to keep a (dated) list handy, so you can let everyone know (a) what’s being taken, (b) in what amount, and (c) how often. Be sure to have at least two copies of this list, if not more. Then, when a doctor or nurse asks for the info, you can hand them a sheet and say, “This is a current list you can keep in his chart.”
Info on Past Surgeries and Procedures
If the patient has a stomach ache, you’ll want to let the staff know if he’s had his appendix or gallbladder out, so they don’t waste time checking to see if either of those are the problem. Keeping a list handy of past surgeries and procedures saves time. It wouldn’t hurt to keep a sheet outlining your family medical history in the folder as well. If you’re seeing a new doctor, this will help you fill out those pages of paperwork they ask for on the first visit.
Names and Contact Info for Every Doctor Seen by the Patient
Always pick up a business card! Punch a hole in the top left corner and place it on a ring (like this one) and keep it in your folder. You could even punch a hole in the manila folder and attach the ring to it, or if it’s a spiral-bound portfolio, attach the ring right to the spiral.
Copies of Test Results (Blood Work, Urinalysis, Ultrasound, Etc.)
Most test results are sent to your primary care physician, but other doctors will need to request the test info. If you have a copy in your folder, they won’t have to wait to read it.
Copies of Articles You’ve Found and Wish to Discuss with the Doctor
You can find medical journals online, and articles at hospital/clinic websites, which may offer some insight into the patient’s care. Avoid personal blogs. And, don’t be offended if you share something and the doctor states it isn’t relevant. Unless you feel he really isn’t reading with an open mind, trust his judgment. It’s his job, after all.
2) Be Prepared to Answer Questions Whenever You See a New Doctor (Or Even the Same Doctor)
Doctors see so many patients in just one day — they may ask the same questions from your last appointment just to jog their memory. And, they’re going to ask you some routine questions, too, to see if anything has changed since they saw you last. You can jot the answers to these questions on a piece of paper and tuck it into the folder you’ve created:
- Any recent illnesses (flu, strep, etc.)?
- Any recent shots (flu, tetanus, etc.)?
- Any new aches and pains (back, head, feet, etc.)?
- Any changes in mobility (walk on heels, close eyes and touch nose, etc.)?
3) Go to All Appointments and Stay in the Room at All Times if Possible
A second set of ears is needed! Plus, if the patient is emotional, you can help them answer questions. Try to let the patient do most of the talking if possible, though.
As long as you’re not causing a ruckus, you can almost always stay with the patient for any test. Many techs will allow one person to stay with a patient during an MRI, Ultrasound, or Doppler. X-ray techs may allow you to stand near them while they take shots. Always ask first. Different places have different policies. They may allow you to be with the patient to help with dressing, but then ask you to wait in a waiting room until the procedure is over. Make sure they know you’re there to help, but please don’t hinder them from doing their job.
4) Get a Copy of Test Results Whenever Possible
The majority of doctors and hospitals are “going digital” these days. MyChart is a popular program used by many. If the results are in digital format, download them to your Google Drive or Dropbox (both are free) so you can easily access them on your phone or tablet. If you don’t have a Google or Dropbox account (did I mention they are both free to obtain?), consider printing out any digital test results that are emailed to you or made available online. Keep the printout in the folder you created (see #1).
If you have an MRI done, be sure to ask for a copy of the disc. Some places will make multiple copies for free if you tell them right away that you want them. Other places will charge a small fee for copies, and that fee will vary based on where the scan is done.
5) Start a Journal
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Stuff some loose-leaf paper into the folder you created (see #1), grab a spiral notebook, or pick up one of those leather-bound, blank books. You’re the one who has to write in it, so you choose. On one page, write out a schedule of meds taken (amounts, time, with or without food, etc.) each day. Any meds taken less often than daily should be noted as well.
- Foods eaten – It helps to “see” the patient’s diet, to know it’s balanced and healthy, and to see if anything needs eliminating because it interacts with medication.
- Activities – What happened that day? Was it stressful or relaxing? How tired was the patient afterward?
- New aches and pains – Sometimes these correlate to foods eaten or activities of the day; other times they can’t. It’s always helpful to know when a new pain started and how severe it is– doctors are always asking those questions!
- Physical and mental acuity, mood – Make a note of sluggishness, foggy brain, and crabbiness, among other things. Is it due to lack of sleep? Strenuous activities? An unpleasant experience?
- Blood sugar, blood pressure, weight – A spike in blood sugar can cause mood changes. Extra weight can cause pain. And high blood pressure can cause a whole slew of problems. Keep track of this info to let the doctor know what’s going on.
- Weather – Sometimes pressure fronts can affect pain. Simply note the temperature, humidity and basic weather (e.g., raining, snowing, etc.).
6) Offer Copies of Test Results to Doctors
If you have copies in your folder, it will be easy to show the doctor the info. They can then make copies or request copies from the prescribing doctor. Digital copies can be pulled up on your phone or tablet to allow the doctor to see the info. They can then decide if they need to obtain copies from the prescribing doctor. If you see a lot of different doctors, this will come in handy.
7) Make Sure the Pharmacist is Aware of All Medications/Supplements/Vitamins Being Taken
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Always keep at least two copies of the current “m/s/v” sheet in your folder. When you drop off a new script, talk to the pharmacist about what the patient is taking and find out if there are any interactions of which to be aware.
8) Stay Focused on the Patient and How You Can Help Him While Speaking with Doctors
Try not to think about tomorrow, or how this will affect your life. It will only make you feel overwhelmed. Instead, focus on the patient. Is he able to answer the doctor’s questions? Does he need to hold your arm to walk? While you’re at appointments, it’s all about the patient. When you get home, you can talk about everything else. If you have new questions for the doctors, jot it on a piece of paper and stick it in your folder so you can ask at the next appointment or call the next day.
You may even need to find a trusted friend to talk to during this time, someone you feel comfortable with, who will let you cry on their shoulder. Remember to respect the privacy of your patient and only share your own feelings.
9) Always, ALWAYS Keep a Book or Crochet Project with You, or in the Car, in Case You Need to Wait
I always do this. The one time I forgot, we had an unscheduled MRI appointment, and they didn’t allow anyone to be with the patient. It took three hours! Thankfully, between my phone and my tablet, I was able to keep busy.
Staying Organized During a Medical Crisis
There you have it. Nine things to remember when a medical crisis hits. I certainly hope you never face a medical crisis, but if you do, these tips will come in handy. The best part is that half of them rely on the very first one: creating a file folder. Staying organized during a medical crisis doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With a little forethought, you’ll never be unprepared again.