Simple Organizing Techniques Improve Health

Before heading to the runway for takeoff, pilots must complete a procedural checklist to assure the aircraft is ready for flight. Now many hospitals require surgeons to complete a similar checklist before doing even the most minor procedures — including, to the amusement of some, confirming which limb or organ is to be operated upon. While it seems silly, it’s not — it’s a way to be assured that every possible step is being taken to assure patient safety. Research is demonstrating that when hospitals adopt this practice, there is a measurable improvement in outcome. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found a reduction in both deaths and complications when hospitals used a 19-item surgical safety checklist.

It makes sense that if individuals establish a structure with routine procedures for health-related matters, it would not only reduce stress, but also help lower the risk of at-home medication mistakes and other mishaps that can have serious consequences. Many people put themselves at risk because they are haphazard about letting important papers pile up or, equally problematic, throwing out things they should keep for future reference.

I put in a call to organization expert Julie Morgenstern, author of several books, including Organizing from the Inside Out and her latest, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, who agreed to share her best strategies for organizing your home for optimal health. “First and foremost,” she says, “being organized is calming. It gives you a sense of assurance and of being in control and that reduces anxiety.” No more heart-pounding panicked searches for lost items, which saves time as well. According to Morgenstern, people spend an average of a full hour a day looking for lost items. And organization eases financial anxiety by saving money — no more late charges as you routinely pay bills on time and no more duplicate purchases of stuff you need right now but can’t find.


Paper — bills, vaccination records, medical history, prescriptions, household information — represents the greatest organizational challenge. The vast majority of health information is still passed along on paper and it’s critical to keep virtually all of it. She recommends streamlining how you handle health-related paperwork in order to minimize the chaos. Her suggested strategies:

  • Designate a “paperwork station” where you will process and keep all printed and written information.
  • Have everything you need in one place — a clean surface, a supply drawer, file folders, a telephone, possibly a computer, and at least one file drawer or box where you will keep printed material. It’s fine to keep other records (financial, household) in the same place, but make sure all files are clearly labeled.
  • Always open your mail right away and near a trash can and a shredder. Deal with it, file it away or dispose.


Other areas of health and medical materials require their own procedures. Drugs and supplements should be stored where you take them, preferably in the kitchen. Health organizations warn against storing meds in bathrooms due to heat and humidity. Always check whether drugs you take regularly need to be kept dry or cool, and if so, designate a special spot in the fridge or closet. Morgenstern suggests noting on prescription drug labels the date you take the first pill. The reason: People often don’t start a drug regimen for several days after purchase and the doctor may need to know how long you have been on the medication. This way you can respond with certainty. Note whether it is a new prescription or a generic or different brand, in case you have a reaction. Also, highlight expiration dates on all vials and bottles for easy reminders about discarding those that are out of date. Mark on your calendar when to call for renewals.

Remember that vitamins and other supplements should be used under a physician’s prescription and treated with the same respect as drugs. If you use pill organizers, it is best to retain the original containers for first dose and expiration dates. This will also allow you to recall information about the manufacturer and lot number of the product if any issues arise.

Keep a chart of all prescriptions and supplements that you take. Include product name, prescriber, dosing and the reason that you’re taking the product. A copy of this should be kept in a file folder and in your wallet in case of emergency.


Medical records are crucial. They are a part of your health history, they play a role in future medical treatment decisions, and in this era of specialization, your records are likely to be hither and yon in a variety of medical offices. If like many people you haven’t kept a careful set at home, this is easy to remedy. You have a right to copies of your medical records — make it part of your routine to request copies from every doctor’s office you visit, and call to request past records you don’t have. Records you will need are those that concern all major illnesses and treatments, immunizations, test results, injuries and surgeries. If they are computerized, you can store them on a flash drive in addition to on your computer hard drive — and keep a hard copy in a safe place in your home.


Now, to enter the land of the truly efficient  — prepare a medical summary. This can be done on paper (even handwritten) or stored in the computer.

  • On the first sheet, at the top, list names, specialties and contact information for all your doctors.
  • Follow this with a bulleted list encapsulating your medical history — all your major illnesses, treatments, screening tests, surgeries and accidents. Include dates and names of treating doctors.
  • Also, write a brief family medical history that includes major illnesses of all first and second-generation relatives. (The US government offers a free online family health record tool at Keep this record current, just as you do your financial records, and keep a paper copy in its special file, so it can be easily reached anytime you visit a new doctor or are asked about your medical history.
  • On another sheet list all routine health check-ups with the doctors’ names and numbers… review it monthly and schedule the appointments accordingly.

Imposing order on any aspect of your life — especially anything related to health — brings a sense of calm and a significant reduction in stress which translates into improved health in the long run.

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