Many people experience a major illness during their lifetime or care for someone who is ill. Between doctor visits, insurance filing and research about a condition, paperwork piles up. A reader asked how to manage all the papers, and how to find something without searching through the whole stack.
May is National Older Americans Month, and one of the themes of this year’s campaign is advocating for yourself. If you are a senior or you care for one, you know that it’s easy to lose track of the details when you see several medical providers, take multiple medications and/or go through many medical treatments.
There are apps that can help you organize digitally, or you can use a low-tech, low-cost solution. The good old three-ring binder provides portability and easy access for documents you need now. If you are chronicling a long illness, you may need more than one binder for previous years or earlier treatments.
The first step to staying on top of the paper is establishing a routine, including opening the mail regularly. Keep all lab tests, diagnostic documents and notes from doctor visits in the binder. You can fill your binder with page protectors or folders, or punch holes in papers when you get home and file them in the binder. I recommend having a section where you track physical or behavioral changes, treatment plan modifications, possible treatment options, and the providers who make recommendations. That’s also the place where you note any questions you want to ask the doctor at a future visit.
File insurance Estimate of Benefits (EOB) forms in a separate binder or file folder. They tell you how much your insurance company paid for each visit and how much, if anything, you owe. Chances are you won’t look at them again, but if there’s a question about payment, you’ll be able to look it up quickly. If your insurance company makes them available digitally, you can file them in a folder on your computer, instead.
There’s so much to remember when you’re caring for someone who is ill. Having all your data in one place, so you can refer to them during a medical appointment, will help prevent overmedication, duplicate treatments and unnecessary tests. If you’re worried that your medical providers will think you’re trying to second-guess them, reframe your thinking: You are supporting a team effort; most of them will appreciate your diligence and the ability to access important information quickly.
Have you used a system for tracking paperwork during an illness? Leave a comment, below, and let us know what worked for you.
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