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Where Are Your Medical Records?

I’m going to break with tradition and address something that I feel is important, yet has never come as a question from my readers. I hope to have you change an operating basis that most people have regarding medical tests.

When you have a medical test or procedure done at a doctor’s office, lab or hospital what do you do with the results? Are you told, “you’ll be contacted if there’s a problem” and forgot about it unless called? Are you told, “everything’s OK,” or “within limits” but never actually look at the actual report?

I strongly recommend that whenever you or your family members have any test or procedure done to be absolutely sure to receive a copy of the results. This includes blood tests, PAP smears, X-rays, lung function tests, ultrasounds, CAT scans, MRI’s and any and all other specialty tests that may be done.

Ideally these would be kept in a file with some order, either by date and/or type of procedure. But even if you just shove them in a drawer they will still be available to you when needed. They may just be harder to find.

I have had too many patients who know they had a test done but can’t recall the name of the facility where the test was done, or the doctor who ordered it, or even the city or state where it was performed. This sometimes necessitates a repeat test which obviously costs additional money, takes more time and exposes them to the procedure again.

Another common occurrence is patients thinking they had been tested for one thing, but when we track down the results, discover the test was for something totally different. There is a big difference between an abdominal ultrasound detecting gall stones and a totally different test that involves injecting dye into the body looking to detect kidney stones.

There is another common practice especially in the field of women’s regular check-ups, to tell the patient, “We’ll contact you if there is a problem.” I have always protested this operating basis. The possibility of staff error, overwhelm or negligence introduces the opportunity of not informing a woman of a potentially life threatening health situation. This in turn could delay treatment of any kind or the option of some treatments that may only be successful in the early stages of detection.

Another unfortunate common practice, especially with blood test results, is to tell a patient that everything is OK, when upon my later review it is found that there are definite indications of things needing attention.

This situation seems to come about from at least two different scenarios. A physician may order some blood tests that are grouped together (called a panel), but really only has attention on one or a few of the tests. If any of the other tests are out of range they may be ignored.

Another scenario I’ve observed over the years is that medical doctors who are traditionally trained (and even some who have recently become more alternatively oriented) have a definite higher tolerance for test results to be further out of range before addressing them. If a doctor’s main tools for treatment are drugs and/or surgery it is maybe to your advantage to not have them do early intervention.

However, if a doctor is trained from a functional medicine viewpoint, early indications of problems can frequently be turned around, and often very quickly, with the appropriate diet changes, supplementation and hands-on treatments. There truly is no reason to wait until a situation gets more out of hand.

Having your test results available when seeking assistance from a new doctor can only speed up their ability to help you. Even if you completely remember every test you’ve had done and where it was performed, there will still be additional time involved tracking them down. I have found that it can take weeks or longer for some facilities to copy and forward records.

Having a history of test data available can assist your doctor in making a more accurate and/or earlier diagnosis. Even if they feel it is important to repeat a test they will now have the earlier data to compare it to and evaluate any changes that are occurring.

In reviewing the last few years of blood test results for one of my patients, I saw a trend of increasing values for two specific liver tests. Although they were still totally within the traditional clinical normal values, they were steadily rising. I ordered some tests to follow up on this and was able to make a very early diagnosis of hepatitis C (a viral infection that affects the liver and can lead to liver cancer or the need for a liver transplant) and begin appropriate treatment protocols long before it would normally have been detected.

If a physician truly has your best interests in mind they won’t huff or roll their eyes when you tell them that you have previous test results available. Understand that it does take time to review and evaluate historical test data. However, if your doctor is unwilling to do that I would reconsider whom you are working with regarding your health.

So, how do you go about getting copies of your results? If a test is done at your doctor’s office just ask to have a copy of the results made for you. If a test is being done at an outside facility, you may need to sign an information release form or ask your doctor to make a copy for you, once he/she receives the results.

If you want to gather up previous results, send a written request including your full name (including any possible different names you went by), your date of birth, the date(s) of the procedure, and the specific results or records that you are requesting. Some facilities will also need your Social Security number.

Actual X-rays and other similar tests are the official property of the facility that took them. However, it is possible to receive copies of the films for a fee. Most offices will provide copies of reports at no charge. However, if you are requesting a large amount of records there may be a nominal copying fee charged.

When I was pregnant with my daughter there was a question whether a previous surgical procedure would interfere with my desire to have a water birth home delivery. In following my own advice, I had copies of the hospital’s surgical report from ten years earlier. As that hospital had since gone out of business, only by having these copies was it possible for my midwives and back-up physician to know that it would be fine to deliver my daughter in the manner I had desired. Hopefully the above information will convince you to take control of your own medical records. It could improve your health!

Dr. Susan Player