Spring Cleaning for Your Medical Records
If your medical papers have been piling up, springtime is a good time to get them in order. Find out here what to keep and how you might use those records.
Essential Medical Information
Keep records for you and your family about things such as these:
- Medications, including dosages;
- Past medical conditions;
- Chronic health problems;
- Hospitalizations and surgeries, with dates;
- Family medical history;
- Immunization history;
- Lab test results; and
- Data from home-monitoring devices, such as a blood pressure cuff.
It can be useful to get a copy of your providers’ records about you. In most cases, you have a right to receive a copy of these records. Be aware that the office might charge you for copying and mailing them. If your provider keeps an electronic health record (EHR), you may be able to get the information electronically.
Keep Your Records Handy
There will be times when you’ll need quick access to your medical records. For instance, if you go to a new provider, you’ll be asked about:
- Medications, allergies, family medical history and other health-related information;
- Chronic conditions (such as asthma) and which treatments have or haven’t helped you in the past; and
- Any medication side effects you’ve had.
Sometimes you’ll need information about other family members, too:
- When you visit a family member’s caregiver, you’ll need medical information about your family member as well as your family’s medical history.
- If you enroll your child in school or camp, you may need proof of immunizations and physical exam.
Health and dental insurance ID cards contain important information, such as the name of your insurer, your member ID number and group number (if any), your type of plan and the insurer contact number. See our Insurance Basics article on Health Insurance ID Cards.
Staying on Top of Cost Information
Important healthcare cost records include:
- Medical bills;
- Explanation of benefit forms (EOBs);
- Records of payment, such as receipts, cancelled checks and credit card bills;
- Copies of insurance claims you filed;
- Reimbursements received from your insurer;
- Copies of letters or emails exchanged with your insurer and providers; and
- Written records of conversations with providers and insurance company representatives, including the date, name of the person you spoke with and what was said.
When You’ll Need Your Cost Records
There can be a number of times when you’ll need your healthcare cost records:
- Most health insurance plans have deductibles. You’ll want to keep track of how much you’ve paid toward your deductible.
- At tax time, you may be eligible to deduct medical expenses on your taxes.
- If you have a flexible spending plan, the amount you spent this year will give you an idea of how much to set aside next year.
- When you’re budgeting for next year’s medical expenses, cost information from this year can help you get an idea of what you might need to spend.
- If you compare your yearly costs to what they might be under a different health plan, you may decide to switch plans.
Reviewing Your Medical Bills
Your medical bills list the services you received and the dates you received them. They also list the cost for each service, how much the insurer paid, how much you’ve already paid and the total amount you owe.
It’s important to review your medical bills for any errors—even if you think they’re minor. (See How to Review Your Medical Bill.) There may be treatments listed that you didn’t get or charges that are higher than what you were told. If you spot any errors, contact your provider’s billing department. Make sure to keep a record of your payment.
EOBs list the services you received and how much your insurer paid. If the insurer’s payment hasn’t been applied to your bill, contact your provider’s billing department. If the EOB doesn’t seem right, contact your insurer. See Explanation of Benefits.
Medical Information to Always Keep with You
Keep these items with you at all times in case of emergency:
- Your health insurance ID card(s);
- A short list of your essential medical information, including:
- Medicines and allergies;
- Illnesses that must be treated in a special way by emergency care practitioners—for example, heart disease, diabetes or hepatitis; and
- Any medical devices, such as pacemakers or stents.