With a new year and a new decade, it’s time for you to seize hold of your own personal medical knowledge
“Knowledge is power,” stated Francis Bacon, a philosopher who established and popularized an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry five centuries ago. With a new year and a new decade, it’s time for you to seize hold of your own personal medical knowledge. Following is a summary of things you should know about your own medical history.
• Your current medical history. Learn the correct names and details of any medical conditions that you have. It’s not enough to be aware that you have “heart disease.” That broad term covers a wide range of possibilities. Is your heart disease coronary artery disease, in which the arteries to the heart muscle are diseased? Is it congestive heart failure, a disorder in which the heart muscle is weak? Or is it atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm? If you don’t know your diagnoses, make it a point to ask your doctor. Problems that are controlled by medication or lifestyle still count as part of your medical history. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes that is under control, it’s still important.
• Your past medical history. Learn the names of medical problems that you’ve had in the past. If you were admitted to a hospital, why were you in the hospital? What kind of surgery have you had?
• Your current medications. It’s not enough to tell your health care providers that you take a little white pill for your blood pressure. There are many little white pills out there. Instead, learn the following information about your medicines: the names of your medicine, the strength, and how often you take the medicine (one pill three times a day? Three pills once a day?). Also learn why you take each medication.
• Your allergies. Learn the names of medications to which you’ve had a reaction, and learn what kind of reaction you experienced.
• What is the name of your pharmacy? Whenever possible, you should get all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. When a person receives medications from several different doctors, it’s possible for one doctor to prescribe a medication that could interact with another pill ordered by a different prescriber. If you fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, the pharmacist can identify potential harmful drug interactions.
• What are the names of your doctor(s)? Even though you’d think this would be obvious, the number of people who can’t remember the name of their regular physician amazes me. “You know,” patients often tell me in the urgent care, “the guy over in the medical office building that’s near one of the hospitals—I can’t remember which one—he’s a nice guy, short hair, somewhere between 35 and 55 years old…..” That describes a lot of doctors! Learn the names of any specialists that you see, as well as the name of your primary care provider.
• Your personal health statistics. Learn items that are relevant to you. For example, if you are being treated for high blood pressure, what is your usual blood pressure? If you have diabetes, what is your usual blood sugar?
Once you have gathered the above information, write it down. Put it in your wallet or purse and carry it with you. Keep it up to date. If you type it up on your computer, you can edit it and print a new copy when something changes. If you keep a handwritten copy, then re-write it if there are so many corrections that it is no longer legible. Keep a copy at home where your family can locate it in case of an emergency.
As a last piece of organization for the new decade, clean out your medicine cabinet and dispose of medicines that are no longer needed or are outdated. That will prevent you from accidentally taking the wrong medicine and reduce the chance that someone in the household will inappropriately self-treat an undiagnosed medical problem.