How to Organize Medical Records

How to Organize Medical Records

I’ve been a professional organizer for the last 10 years, a technology manager before that, and I was also an EMT for six years. At some point, everyone asks about what medical records they should keep, and there’s not one single right answer. So let’s discuss it here, and then you can spend about 30 minutes today getting your medical records organized.

The most important thing about organizing medical records is:

Information Is Only Useful if You Can Find It

* Why is it necessary for people to organize their medical information? What can go wrong if they don’t?

Young people who are relatively healthy won’t have much to organize or save. But as we age, we tend to seek more medical care, and that’s when we have more to organize. The two main reasons we keep medical information is:
1. to support billing and insurance issues when they arise and
2. to maintain a personal health record that includes conditions, treatments, medications, and healthcare provider contacts.
The most common risk of not having paperwork organized is not being able to get reimbursed for prescriptions or procedures. Disorganized paperwork can commonly overwhelm an individual and cause stress for them and caregivers. At worst, not having critical information about ongoing medical care can delay appropriate or ideal treatments.

* How to create a health profile

Healthy folks generally don’t even think about this and don’t need it. Although an ePHR (electronic personal health record) is the future, there is no standard as of yet, and the most medically intensive clients aren’t usually the most tech savvy. Clients with ongoing health conditions generally get by with some combination of handwritten notes, test results, and bills in a file folder or portable file bin, like this.

how to organize medical records
The apps and programs that people are using to capture personal information so they can access it on the go include,, and software like CareBinders LLC (CBData). Even a simple, all-purpose application like Evernote can be used to scan or capture medical records for mobile access.

* Why you should list your prescriptions

This is the single most useful piece of information for the EMTs when they arrive at your door. Knowing what patients are on, and whether they are actually taking it, helps inform treatment. I remember a particular patient who may or may not have been on Coumadin, a blood thinner, who might have gotten quicker interventions at the hospital if we had been able to confirm her meds.

* How to create a health care power of attorney

While this is good to have, it’s only useful if others know you have it. I advocate having a Vital Records file with all of your critical information that someone would need if they were to have to take over your affairs. Make sure your designated person knows you have this file set up and where it is located, and how to access it if it is locked up. Then have a backup contact in case the primary contact is unavailable. Then make sure those contacts are noted in your wallet. If there’s no close family, it’s fine to choose a friend or neighbor who has agreed to act on your behalf.

* Why you should compile your insurance information

There are several reasons to organize your insurance information:
1. To ensure that coverage doesn’t lapse because of disorganization
2. To ensure that someone else can locate insurance information if they need to act on your behalf
3. To ensure that you can name your insurance provider when needed
4. To ensure you can reach your insurance provider in the case of questions or billing disputes
5. To easily catch billing errors when they occur (and they will)
6. To save money by claiming all reimbursements, especially from your employer
7. To ensure that you don’t use old policy information, causing mistakes or wasted time
8. To ensure that you don’t keep old policy information and cause more clutter in your home

* How to organize your medical paper (a general overview)

In general, medical information falls into one of 3 categories:

1. Billing and reimbursement information
2. Personal healthcare records (one file each for you and each member of your family)
3. Reference information (magazine articles or other general resources, not specific to you personally)

If you can divide up your papers into these three categories, you can then decide whether it is information that you want to keep for a short time up to 2 years (billing information), permanent information to keep long term or perhaps forever (vaccination records, genetic testing, major lab results), or not at all (reference information that you can otherwise reference via the web).

Above all, get rid of the piles! Information is only useful if you can find it.

Your homework for today is:

to gather your medical and insurance information together

to separate it into billing info, personal medical history for each family member, or general reference material

to make a list of your medications if you take any

to tell someone else where your vital records are kept

Yes, you can get this done is about 30 minutes if you stay focused. Set that timer and go!

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