Bloomington / Normal, IL

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Organizing Medical Records


By Carrie Downey, Clarity Co.

What should you do with all of the papers related to medical care?  If you are caring for someone with a chronic illness who requires frequent appointments to a number of different specialists, you may find yourself being asked the same questions repeatedly and realize that you are the conduit of communication across all the providers. Even a healthy person can become overwhelmed with the amount of paper that results from a couple medical appointments and back-to-school checkups. Everyone should implement an organizational system that allows you to stay on top of this very important matter.

It would be unrealistic to think you could memorize information about medications, immunizations, or the types of tests that have been performed. Yet, until all health care providers are using electronic systems that communicate to one another, patients should advocate for themselves and their family members by bringing along a Patient Health Record (PHR) that compiles all of the vital information. Keeping a PHR will help communication with providers, ensure safety when it comes to drug interactions and allergies, and avoid duplication of medical tests or procedures.

Compiling a PHR
First, decide whether to create a paper or electronic PHR. Some things to consider:

  • How many people are you currently responsible for keeping track of their medical records?
  • Are you, or those you are caring for, visiting medical professionals frequently or only a few times a year? If it’s frequent, then it won’t be long before that paper system becomes too cumbersome.
  • Electronic storage requires a mobile device (tablet or smart phone) to take with you to medical appointments.

Paper System
If you prefer paper, the best way is to contain it in a 3-ring binder. Depending on your answers to No. 1 and No. 2 above, you may be able to contain everyone’s papers in one family binder or you may need separate binders for each family member. Section dividers with tabs will be a key ingredient to organizing your binder by person and then by illness or specialization. Also use section dividers for easy access to:

  • Contact information for emergency contacts, physicians, and insurance information,
  • Medication list including current medications and dosages, drug allergies and past medications that perhaps were ineffective
  • Specialist information that includes assessment results, diagnoses, treatment recommendations, and outcomes
  • General physical health information such as annual physicals, vaccinations, vitals, lab results and scans, or X-rays
  • Medical history including diseases or conditions that your parents or grandparents had. This information can be crucial in determining your risk factors for certain illnesses.

File the most current papers on top. Clean out the binder annually to discard paperwork pertaining to resolved medical issues. But be sure to summarize that information in your medical history section.

Electronic System
For starters check out your options through This website provides an overview of online resources and apps available to consumers today.  Medicare patients, military veterans, and soldiers on active duty can readily access their medical records through the Blue Button, a portal to medical records stored by federal government agencies. If you don’t qualify for the Blue Button, I’d recommend inquiring with your health insurance or health care providers to see if the electronic system they are using offers patients mobile access.

Until we learn more about the health app that Apple is launching with IOS8 this fall, MyMedical, OnPatient, WebMD Health Manager, and Microsoft Health Vault are available apps offering storage and tracking features. Consider whether the app stores the data directly on your device or whether it is saved to a third party server and how it is backed up for safekeeping. Some medical offices and hospitals can share information directly to your mobile device as long as the app you’ve selected meets security and privacy provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.  To minimize risk of medical identity theft, be sure to use the apps password protection feature and have any identifying information (patient’s name, address and phone number) removed from the data being uploaded.

To learn more about paper and electronic file organization, contact Carrie Downey at Clarity Co. at 309-808-2576 or She is a local professional organizer who can help you create Clarity, one organizational project at a time. Visit for a list of other services she provides to residential and business clients.

Photo credit: kiddy0265/iStock