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Becoming an Empowered Patient: Paperwork

Over the last few years, I have learned a lot about being a good patient. The key to being a good patient is the same as being a good Girl Scout: be prepared. I promise being well-prepared will save you a few headaches and just make life more pleasant. Today we’ll stick to one aspect of being prepared. These tips should be useful for everybody, regardless of your current health situation.

I keep a bright red folder stuffed with all kinds of important papers ready to go at a moment’s notice. Here’s what I have in the folder:

  • list of all medications and supplements, complete with dosage, frequency, and pharmacy information
  • contact information for all my various doctors
  • recent blood and imaging test results
  • brief health history that includes the dates and details of surgeries, procedures, and tests
  • notebook paper, because I doubt you’re going to remember everything the doctors say. I don’t. This is also great for spontaneous bursts of creativity while you wait.

So many nurses and doctors have thanked me for having all that information ready. It makes everything go a lot faster, especially in quirky cases like mine. You probably want to keep the folder somewhere accessible and easy to remember, just in case you have to leave in a hurry, or you have to send friends to get it.

In addition to the red folder, I also have a big binder of reference materials.

  • Prescription information: I can’t keep track of all the side effects and warnings for my medications so I just keep the pamphlets from the pharmacy.
  • Nutrition: articles, recipes, and lists of foods high in various nutrients. This section is handy when I have vitamin deficiencies, so when I’m having trouble eating I can look up foods that will have the most nutritional value.
  • Fitness: magazine and newspaper articles about low impact exercise and stretching
  • Newsletters: publications with articles that you will want to read more than once.

On a personal note, I credit my mother for this bit of organization in my life. She has taught me well. My family is convinced she has everything we could ever possibly need in her purse. Need some Tylenol? She’s always got it. How about a mini pocket knife? She’s got that too. I carry my cute little pocket knife in my ostomy kit. I get the BEST looks from my friends when that comes in handy. I bug every medical professional for hard copies of every test result, including their typed notes. When I see a doctor and have every paper they could possibly need, I get the same looks from them. It never gets old.

Now, off you go! It’s time to prepare for physical malfunctions, which is not so exciting, but at least your next appointment will be slightly less tedious. You’re on your way to becoming a more empowered patient. Hooray!

p.s. If I have any readers who have things to add to this list, please let me know! I am, as always, a work in progress.

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