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“I’ll Leave a Note”

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By Christine Maynard, Patient Advocate

When my mother was in her 80’s, my sister and I decided it was time to have a discussion with her concerning the whereabouts of her medical records. We didn't have any of her medical history, doctors’ contact information or records of drug allergies. Being a proud southern woman, and feeling that walking four miles a day protected her against any negative effects of aging or diseases, she declined to agree with our "need to know."

Finally, while packing for elder hosteling abroad she primly replied, "I'll leave a note." My sister and I looked between mattresses, under floorboards and in drawers with secret panels for days for that note at a crucial time.

We never found it.

There are remedies to potential problems like this. Vital health information can easily be recorded in our secure medical portals. In a medical emergency, details can be instantly accessed and potentially save our lives or the lives of our loved ones.

Besides a living will with our preferences for end-of-life care, we can often include blood type, relevant medical histories and even instructions for our pets’ care if we were suddenly hospitalized in the patient notes of our patient portal. As informed patients and savvy health care consumers, we should all use our patient portals in case those providing or managing our care need that information.
Case in point: I had a vena cava filter in place for 13 years. It is a titanium device that looks like a complicated fishing lure with pointy bits like hooks. It is designed to catch clots before they enter the lungs. I was tasked with informing medical professionals of its placement, but I always wondered, what would happen if I were unconscious?  Even though it could be seen on a scan, what if it was missed? Wouldn't it be better if that information was in an electronic file that could be instantly accessed in case of a medical emergency?

Even if we don’t have patient portals or electronic patient notes available to us, there are options we can use to make certain this kind of critical information is accessible to our care providers in emergency situations. For example, iPhone users can load important health information into the ‘emergency’ section of their phone, and even if the phone is locked, that information will still be available to emergency care providers.
Medical devices, implants, hardware (titanium rods, hip replacements, etc.,) history from previous surgeries, how one responds to anesthesia, drug allergies and sensitivities, underlying conditions - all of this information needs to be instantaneously accessible if a medical crisis occurs. We can't plan or prevent these things. But we can be prepared.

Examine your current comfort level and game plan for how others would access your vital records. If it is leaving a note, you may want to upgrade your plan. Medical portals can provide an invaluable service in storing critical information that is easy for your medical team to retrieve.

Talk to your doctor about patient portals and other tools you can use to ensure that your health information is available when and where it’s needed. Don't put it off, and don't be embarrassed if you are not computer savvy. Ask a family member or friend for help inputting the data if you need it.

Take the patient portal plunge, if you haven't already. It is much simpler than you might imagine. It is a useful tool through which to communicate with your doctors.

And more importantly, it could save your life.

Christine Maynard, formerly of Natchitoches, La., is an author and journalist. As the survivor of a serious motor vehicle accident that placed her in a medically induced coma and required many surgeries, she is well aware of the difficulties patients face in navigating the health care system. Her unique perspective has inspired her to become a patient advocate whose most important message to doctors and patients is that the patient is the doctor's greatest resource.
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  • Michael Henry Thursday, 22 October 2015

    Interesting and useful information from Christine, who knows of which she speaks. Health is our most valuable asset. Christine has been a warrior in the fight for hers. Looking forward to reading more insightful blogs from this brilliant, strong woman.

  • Christine Maynard Thursday, 22 October 2015

    Thank you, Mike. I'm here to serve. I wish for all of us to move forward, in lockstep, embracing better health and better communication and understanding between health care providers and patients. I wish to help galvanize that movement as well as continue to seek solutions for my own health, always. "Never, ever quit!"

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