Even in this day of high-tech, electronic record-keeping, it’s challenging to compile your medical history. But there are some tricks that will help—and even an organization that can give you the records it keeps on your medical encounters. My advice… 

Be smart about electronic records. You probably know that federal and state laws give you the right to see and get copies of your medical records. In the past, paper copies were the only option, and often there was a charge for each page. Now, of course, most doctors, hospitals, labs and outpatient facilities keep their records electronically and have Internet portals that give you direct access to your records. That means you can access records anytime and even print them out at home. 

Insider tip: Most electronic medical records go back no further than the point when the provider started using electronic systems. This means you’ll need to ask for paper copies of older records.

Don’t wait too long. Since there is no single place your medical records are kept, you will need to contact all the different providers you have used over the years, going back as far as possible—especially for records on surgeries, medication allergies and diseases you’ve had. However, depending on the state where you live, most doctors and hospitals are required to keep your records only three to 10 years after your last encounter. Because of federal privacy laws, no other party can access your records unless you have given written permission. Providers usually require you to allow them to send any records necessary to your insurer to receive payments. But unless there is a dispute, the only information the insurer receives and keeps is a code number for the service provided. 

Insider tip: The Medical Information Bureau (MIB) Group may have copies of your medical records. This organization, owned by a consortium of life and health insurance companies, can request and receive your medical records if you have applied for life, disability or health insurance as an individual (not as a group or as an employee) with a private insurance company. MIB keeps records only if you have applied for such insurance in the last seven years. Each medical entry is dated and is expunged from the file after seven years. You can check any MIB file kept on you for accuracy once each year either at MIB.com or by calling 866-692-6901. You can check anytime to see if MIB has a file on your medical records and receive a copy at no charge once a year.

Put it all together. I keep a file of my medical history in a loose-leaf binder and update it as needed. I log every medical encounter I have, noting the date, provider and the purpose of my visit. I keep copies of any statements I receive from the provider and my insurer. The log is divided by years, and any statements or lab/test results are put into another file for that year. I keep a list of any condition I have been treated for (as far back as I can remember) and a list of medications I am taking plus any I have had allergic reactions to in the past. I also make sure I have set up electronic access to each of my providers’ medical records portal so that I—or a designated family member—can access those more detailed records if I’m ever incapacitated. 

Another option: There are a variety of apps that can be used if you prefer a computerized copy of your records. Examples: My Medical (MyMedicalApp.com, available for Android and iOS) and Medfusion Plus (MedfusionPlus.com, available for iOS).

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