One of the major obstacles to good medical care is the fact that we don't remember our own medical histories. Not accurately and often not at all. We forget even recent illnesses and treatments.
Studies prove it. One survey compared patients' identification of their own chronic illnesses -- disorders as serious as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease -- with those recorded by their doctors in recent examinations. The patients didn't mention almost half the conditions the doctors recorded over a year's time.
In another case, patients were asked whether they had been in the hospital recently. "You'd think it would be pretty hard to forget a hospital stay," one researcher observes. But 11 to 20 weeks after hospitalization, six persons in 100 who had actually been hospitalized answered "no," and after 51 to 53 weeks an amazing 42 in 100 answered "no."
Perhaps we don't "want" to remember illness. But when we go to a doctor or hospital, an accurate record might save our lives.
Maryland Blue Cross-Blue Shield is currently experimenting with an electronically coded "Lifecard" to carry our medical histories. Others have proposed various kinds of personal history notebooks, most of them more complicated than most of us would want to keep. Computer programs have even been created so we can keep our families' medical histories on floppy disc.
Actually, all most of us would have to do is keep a file folder or large manila envelope, perhaps, with separate sheets of paper for lists of past events of importance, current drugs, reactions to drugs, etc. The file -- including facts like those on the next page -- could accompany us when we go to a hospital or emergency room or new doctor.
You might, for example, keep a list of all X-rays with dates and places taken. Then any new doctor could send for them, perhaps avoiding needless repetition -- or providing an important basis for comparison with new X-rays.
The District of Columbia Medical Record Association now offers some simple help. At last month's HealthCare Expo '85 here, it displayed the wonderfully compact yet thorough Personal Health Record duplicated here.
A committee of the society (headed by Barbara Hays of Greater Southeast Community Hospital and Brian Faust of George Washington University) developed this record and intends to sell it to doctors, hospitals, health organizations and civic groups.
"We'd been thinking of doing this, and getting ready for the HealthCare Expo was the catalyst," Hays says. "We got help from doctors and nurses. We think this is something you can carry anyplace you go."
Wallet-sized copies on heavy paper are available from the D.C. Medical Record Association, N717 River Park, 1301 Delaware Ave. SW., Washington, D.C. 20024. For one to 25 copies, send 50 cents each; 26 to 100, 25 cents each; 101 to 500, 20 cents; 501 to 1,000, 15 cents; more than 1,000, 10 cents.Next Week: On being a "defensive patient."