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Electronic Files and the Caregiver
By Trish Hughes Kreis, Staff Writer

Organized. Caregivers can be called a lot of things (caring, compassionate, self-sacrificing and persistent), but one of the most important traits of a caregiver is being organized. Organization doesn’t always come naturally to people, but it sure can help when keeping track of appointments and medications and lab results and allergies – even likes and dislikes of a loved one. It has never been easier to keep track of everything since so much can be transmitted electronically.

Remember lugging around huge x-rays from one doctor to the next? Most likely today you’ll be handed a computer disc with the images loaded and ready for viewing. Remember waiting for days or weeks to get lab results? Many providers now have online access to lab results within hours. What about calendaring appointments for yourself, your loved one or your entire family? Paper calendars and sticky notes are not the only option any longer.

There are a few ways for the caregiver to keep all information organized and available at a moment’s notice. Paper is still an option and information can be organized in a binder or folder which is available in one place. This method has worked wonders for many caregivers through the years. Electronic options take up less space and can easily be updated to add or change information. USB drives (otherwise known as flash drives) are useful and can store a great deal of data. They are easy to carry in a purse or pocket and can simply be given to a provider at appointments for their viewing.

Online services are another option to stay organized. Usually for a fee (although some programs are available for free), health records are organized and accessed electronically through a Web-based program. Look for programs by searching for Electronic Medical Records (“EMRs”) or Personal Health Records (“PHRs”). As with any personal information, it is important to keep these records secure! When finding a program to fit your needs, review their privacy and security policies, accessibility policy as well as any policy addressing permitted access to your (or your loved one’s) Electronic Medical Records.

It is also important to find out if these programs sell any of your personal information and if you can allow your health provider access to the records. Before using these online services, find out who updates the information. Do you add information to the program? Does your doctor? How exactly will you be able to access the information in an emergency situation?

If organizing medical information on your personal computer, ensure the documents are secure by password protecting documents as well as regularly backing up the computer and investing in computer security to prevent a hacker from accessing private information. “Back up” can be as easy as copying all pertinent files to a USB drive so the information is stored both on the USB drive as well as the computer.

Personal Health Records should include basics such as name, Social Security number, birth date and health insurance. Other information should include names and contact information for all doctors and specialists (both past and present in case previous records need to be obtained). Emergency contact information should be included as well as a list of who to call if the main emergency contact is not available. A list of current medications (name, strength, dosage and times taken) as well as a list of all allergies is important to include in the PHR. Test and lab results can be included in your PHR as well.

Because of privacy laws, it is also essential to keep a copy of any legal documents appointing you as conservator or granting the caregiver Durable Power of Attorney for their loved one. Being able to produce these documents at a moment’s notice will be the key to getting information from hospitals or other healthcare providers about your loved one and their condition. These documents are your Golden Ticket to getting access to all medical records so be sure to have these in place as soon as you assume the caregiver role.

It is nearly impossible to know all of this information from memory when peppered with questions by the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room, which makes carrying an electronic record with you at all times reassuring. Being organized and not having to think about where the lab results are or what new medication Mom is on now will give you, the caregiver, peace of mind and allow you the time to advocate for the best possible care on behalf of your loved one.

 


 

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