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Cancer Survivorship

Keeping Your Personal Health Records

When you were being treated for cancer, visiting your doctor weekly (sometimes even more often than that) was a routine part of your life. Now that you’re cancer-free, you may still need to visit your doctor more frequently than other people who have never had a serious illness. Every time you leave the doctor’s office, you leave with paperwork. You may wonder what you need to keep, why and for how long. Let’s take a closer look at the documents that comprise your personal health records.

Cancer Treatment Survivor Summary: A Cancer Survivor’s Most Important Health Record

A treatment summary is a document your oncologist completed during or soon after your cancer treatment ended. It describes all of the cancer treatment you received, including surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. This summary should list your exact cancer diagnosis and when you received it, what stage your cancer was, and any other relevant information that came from your pathology report.

Your treatment summary should include all pertinent information that could affect your health in the future.

Your cancer treatment summary is very important!

It should be shared with your primary care physician, and any other doctors you see in the future. The treatment summary ensures that you have easy access to your pertinent medical records when you need them. Without it, you would have to track down individual records yourself, which might be difficult or even impossible.

It’s possible that some of the information on the sheet includes medical terms that you may not understand, but that’s OK. It can provide great insight for a physician in the future who may need to provide care for cancer or for another condition.

Other Important Medical Records to Keep

Other important medical records to hold onto include:

  • Treatment plans for existing health conditions
  • Records of past appointments (noting which doctor you saw on which date)
  • Immunization records
  • Hospital bills
  • Mammogram reports and other imaging tests
  • Records detailing other past major illnesses
  • Current medications and medication histories (including information about allergies or adverse reactions to medications)

It’s critical to keep copies of your important medical records because physicians are only required to keep them for a limited period of time (which varies from state to state). Even when patients need records their doctors do still have, they face significant fees and challenges accessing them, notes a 2018 report to Congress by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Keeping Track of Your Health Records

While most healthcare providers keep electronic medical records (EMRs) on each of their patients, it’s smart to keep track of your own records, too, rather than rely on your providers to do so. EMRs are only as comprehensive and accurate as the data that someone is entering into them. Providers are not perfect. They’re often in a rush. It’s entirely possible that pertinent information can inadvertently be left out.

If you go online, you’ll find many software “apps” available to help you organize your medical records. Whether you want to keep track digitally using your smartphone, personal computer, or tablet, you’ll find many options from which to choose. This article mentions 10 apps you can look into for starters. The technology definitely exists. Why not use it?

We all know that computers crash and phones get stolen. If you haven’t already, request paper copies of all your important health records (especially records related to your cancer treatment). Laminate the pages or place them in plastic sleeves to protect them, punch holes in them, secure them in a binder, keep the binder in a safe and easily accessible place, and bring the binder with you each time you’re meeting with a new medical provider.