Posted by Allison Grant, March 13, 2020 (last updated on March 13, 2020)
Over 20 years ago, in 1996, Americans gained the legal right to access their medical records, thanks to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But having legal rights to your health records and knowing what to do with them isn’t the same thing. Despite having access, 41% of Americans have never even seen their healthcare information. It would be too simplistic to say that people aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity to make informed decisions about their care when, in reality, most people never learned how to access their records — or what to do with them once they have them.
If you want to play a more active role in managing your healthcare (and your family’s), being up-to-date on your medical history is critical. From knowing which routine doctor’s appointments to schedule to spotting potential health risks early on, having documented and easily accessible records for you and your partner and your children will give you more power over the care you receive and the cost associated with it. In this guide, we’re getting real on everything you need to know to get–and stay–on top of your family’s healthcare for 2020.
Keeping personal health records creates an ongoing connection between you and your doctor
Organizing your family’s health records can help your doctors provide better care and identify health risks before they become a serious problem. You might assume that your primary care physician keeps an accurate, up-to-date version of your medical records handy but that isn't always the case. In a 2010 survey, one-third of all doctors admitted to forgetting or losing track of potentially important information their patients have told them. No shade to hard-working physicians. As a patient, it’s really up to you to take charge of your healthcare, and by starting your own healthcare record at home, you can ensure that all of the medical information you need is in one place, easy to access and, most importantly, accurate and up-to-date so that you’re always getting the care you deserve when you need it.
How to create an at-home health record
First, buy a few file folders (one for each family member) or a three-ring binder with divider tabs. If you prefer doing things electronically, the Surgeon General hosts an online service called “My Family Health Portrait” that helps you organize all of your family’s health records online. You can organize the files in any way that makes sense to you, as long as the information is easy to store, transport, and update. The most basic (and most critical) documents to include are:
- All of your doctor’s names, phone numbers, and physical addresses
- Records of every doctor’s visit
- Records of every hospital visit
- Pharmacy printouts, such as medication overviews and receipts
- Test results
- Insurance forms
- Any other form you receive from your doctor or insurance company
If you haven’t been keeping all of these files, don’t worry. You can call your doctors and ask for a copy of all the records they have for you. They’ll either send a paper copy of your record or send it to your email. If your doctor has a patient portal where records are stored, it’s even easier to gain access – you’ll just need to find out how to log in. HIPAA (that awesome law we talked about earlier, giving people the right to their own healthcare information) says that providers must process record requests within 30 days but you’ll likely get the information sooner.
The most important components of your health records are listed above. If you want to get really organized, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends making an overall health goal and keeping it as a part of your medical records. Your goal can be something simple, like, “I want to be in good enough shape to referee my child’s soccer game.” When you and your family share your health goals with your doctors, they’re able to help you stay on track to achieve them.
In 2019, the average American didn’t meet their deductible until May 19
Tracking your progress towards your yearly deductible–the amount you have to pay out of pocket for medical expenses before your health insurance will pay–is another essential part of managing your family’s healthcare. (That’s why we make it so easy to track your progress toward your insurance deductible on the Solv app.)
Deductibles for American health plans are on the rise and, on average, people who get insurance through their jobs don’t spend enough on healthcare to meet their deductible until the year is almost halfway over. That date can be even later for people insured through the Affordable Care Act plans, which can come with deductibles up to $8,150. Every dollar that you spend at the doctor goes towards your insurance deductible. By scheduling—and paying for—your family’s preventative care visits now, you can reach it sooner. That way, your insurance plan will help pay for any surprise medical expenses that come up later in the year.
With your medical file and your calendar handy, call your primary care doctor, dentist, optometrist, and gynecologist to schedule the preventative care appointments that you need this year. Overwhelmed by the thought of keeping track? In addition to monitoring your deductible, the Solv app has a health checklist that will keep track for you, and remind you when it’s time to schedule. This is also a good time to check if you’re due for any vaccines.
While you’re booking your appointments for 2020, take the time to call your insurance company to verify that the providers you’re seeing are covered by your insurance. If they aren’t, the cost could be much higher for you. Since some policies require a referral from a primary care physician before you can see a specialist, ask your health plan about that, too. Even if you don’t need to see a specialist now, knowing what the process is beforehand can make managing appointments easier down the road.
Over 25% of American children don’t get all of the healthcare that they need
If you have children, you now not only have to keep track of your own healthcare but theirs, too. The Children’s Health Fund, a healthcare advocacy organization, estimates that at least 20 million children in the U.S. don’t have access to essential medical care including yearly physical exams, vision and hearing screenings, dental exams and cleanings, vaccinations, and developmental and behavioral assessments.
Because children grow and develop at such a rapid rate, regular well-child visits are a crucial part of any family’s yearly healthcare plans. When you take your child for their preventative care visit, their doctor will assess their development and touch base with you on different ways that you can help keep them healthy.
In addition to wellness visits with your child’s primary care doctor, dentist, and optometrist, determine whether your child needs to visit any other specialists, such as an allergist, dermatologist, or child psychiatrist or psychologist. Waitlists to see a specialist can be a month or longer, so figuring out who your child needs to see now will help you make sure that you get all of their appointments scheduled this year. Of course, if your child needs a service they can get at urgent care, you can get care the same-day or next-day when you book online with Solv.
What information should you keep in your family’s medical records?
Your medical files should be your hub for all of the information you need to manage your healthcare for 2020. They should be easy to look through and keep updated, whether you do this digitally with files on your computer or the “old school” way with filing folders you keep at home. For each member of the family, make sure you have the following information and documents:
- Blood type
- Immunization records
- A list of allergies
- Family history of disease
- Hearing, vision, and dental exam results
- Doctors office visit summaries and dates
- Dates and results of lab tests
- Mental health treatment history
- History of childbirth
- A list of chronic health problems with symptoms and treatments
- Past and present medications, including supplements and over-the-counter drugs
- Bills and payment receipts from medical visits
- Explanation of Benefits (EOB) letters from your insurance company
- Names and contact information for all doctors, including their role in your family’s care
- Health insurance plan name and policy number (you can find this on your insurance card)
Which doctor’s appointments you should schedule in 2020
Though everyone’s healthcare needs are unique, there are some appointments that most people should have every year. These include:
Physical exams at your primary care physician’s office or local urgent care
Eye exams (every year for children, every one to two years for adults)
Dental exams and cleanings (twice a year)
Dermatologist appointments (every year for adults, as recommended for children)
Gynecologist appointments (every one to three years for women over 30, every year for young women, starting between the age of 13 and 15)
Depending on your specific health situation, you may also need to schedule appointments with the following specialists this year:
Psychologist or psychiatrist
In your thirties? We break down what all of these specialists do, and why you may need to schedule a visit, in our guide to every doctor you should see in your 30s.
No one is more invested in your family’s well-being than you (though we consider ourselves a close second). Trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. When it comes to the health of you and your children, there’s no such thing as being too prepared. Want help organizing your healthcare for 2020? Solv makes it easy to keep track of your health insurance deductible and which appointments you and your family are due for. Download the app now.