How to Create Your Own Health Summary Reference Sheet

“I take three white pills every morning, but I don’t know their names or what they are for.”

“I had a hip replaced a while ago, but I can’t remember if it was the left or the right.”

“I was really sick and stayed in hospital for a week last year, but I can’t tell you what was wrong or how I got better.”

“Any other medical issues?” No, I don’t think so, I’m in pretty good shape!

These are real quotes from my patients. We all have a little reluctance to recognize our failing body parts, mixed with a disdain for incomprehensible medical jargon. Maybe that’s why we so often forget to pay attention to our health.

A thorough understanding of our own health is the foundation for proactive health management. To that end, I was thrilled to meet a patient who brought a personalized health checkup to his cataract appointment. He had gathered his medical history, his medications and allergies, his various providers, organized all of this information on an Excel spreadsheet and printed it out.

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Besides being super easy to see, the sheet contained crucial information that wasn’t in electronic medical records because some of her care had been provided elsewhere. The patient’s information about his condition not only facilitated our visit, but also provided me with the accurate data necessary to take care of him during his operation.

Inspired by this patient, we recommend everyone create their own health summary reference sheet; it will help you reconnect with your body and communicate with health care providers. We suggest you include the following information:

1. Demography – Start with your name, date of birth and your most recent height and weight. Copy your health plan and member ID number. Then name one or two emergency contacts, or people who can be called to make decisions on your behalf.

2. Allergies – List all drug allergies and your reactions. It helps to know if something caused you minor itching or life-threatening anaphylaxis, or if you couldn’t tolerate it due to side effects or drug interactions.

3. Important Medical Alerts – Are you taking high-risk medication (eg insulin, anticoagulant)? Do you suffer from a disease which can make you suddenly incapacitated (eg irregular heartbeat, epilepsy)? Do you have a missing or transplanted organ? Are you on dialysis? Do you have a vital medical device (eg pacemaker, intracranial shunt)? Clearly state here if you have a “do not resuscitate” order in place and do not wish to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

4. Medical issues – Group your medical problems by organ systems – brain and mind, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, digestive tract, endocrine, muscles, bones and joints, reproductive and urinary. Also include past issues that have been resolved or in remission – for example if you are a cancer survivor.

5. Medicines – This is an opportunity to review what you are actually taking. Write down the name, dosage, how often you take it and what it is used for. Don’t forget over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements.

6. Hospitalizations, surgeries and injuries – List hospitalizations in chronological order with the name of the hospital and the main problem or diagnosis that brought you. For surgeries, indicate the date, the intervention and the surgeon who operated on you. Try to be specific, i.e. “level 3-5 lumbar fusion” instead of “back surgery”.

7. Suppliers – Indicate your primary care physician and any specialists involved in your care. Include the title of their office or group, a phone number, and the last time they saw you.

8. Location – Are you a “bionic human”, as my patients usually refer to themselves? Do you have a metal hip, knee or shoulder? Stents in your heart? Pacemaker or defibrillator? Pacemaker in your brain or spinal cord? Most of these implants come with a care card. Copy the manufacturer, model, and serial number.

Once you have created the reference card, it is important to update it regularly. Bring a copy with you to hospitals and doctor’s appointments. This will greatly ease the chore of filling out new patient intake forms. Just as financial literacy begins with tracking cash flow, health literacy begins with documenting your medical history.

Qing Yang and Kevin Parker are a married couple living in Springfield. Dr. Yang is an anesthesiologist. She received her medical degree from Yale School of Medicine and completed her residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital. Parker has helped formulate and administer public policy in various municipal, state, and federal government entities, including the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. This column is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The opinions are those of the authors and do not represent the views of their employers.

About Terry Gongora

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