The longer you live, the more encounters you have with the health care system. After a while, you may forget or get confused about procedures or illnesses you had when you were younger. Was it measles or chickenpox, mumps or whooping cough? Have you had your tonsils removed? Did you have cataracts removed from one or both eyes? And what about medication allergies?

Remembering these issues and other important occurrences related to your health is important. The more information about your health history you can pass along to a health-care provider, the better that professional can treat your current or future problems. You’re likely thinking that your doctor has all that information because he or she has been treating you for years. And that may be true for your primary care doctor. But what about specialists you see? While most of those doctors now use electronic medical record systems, those systems are often unable to communicate with doctors or hospitals outside their own system, so it’s up to you to provide them with all the information.

That is why I recommend keeping your own medical record. It’s easy to assemble and maintain, and you’ll find it to be one of the most useful efforts you can make to ensure the best health treatment. Here’s how to do it.

Create your record format. You can keep your record on a computer or on paper. I prefer both. If you use a computer, create a health record file in a program like Word. If you are doing it exclusively on paper, use a loose-leaf binder. Make a single page for each important topic, such as childhood diseases, surgical procedures, major diagnoses, medications, inoculations, family history of conditions, and provider office visits. Focus on one topic at a time to make this task easier and quicker. By assembling your record in this manner, you will be able to quickly find out the information you or your provider is seeking.

Gather your data. For each topic area, start by listing the information you remember. For example, I had mumps when I was less than 10 and my tonsils removed when I was 5 or 6. Going way back, you may need the help of a sibling or other relative who might remember your ailments. Try to put things down chronologically from the earliest to the latest. The exact dates are not that important, but a general timeframe might help. If you have copies of medical records created by your doctor or from a hospitalization, review them for any pertinent information. Under federal and state laws, you have a right to access and review medical records maintained by your doctor or a hospital. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

How to use it. Keep your record as up-to-date as possible. For example, under medications, keep an active list of current medications you take, noting the dose and frequency. Under that same topic, keep a list of adverse reactions to any medications you have taken in the past. I bring my loose-leaf binder with me any time I am seeing a new doctor or medical professional. This saves my time and theirs as they assemble my medical history. If you have the information on a computer, transfer it to your smartphone or a tablet when you see someone new so that you can quickly access it.

Health care is a partnership between you and your providers. The most accurate and complete information available to each of you will only make your care better.

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