Riccardi says the risk is greatest for patients who have a medical condition that is changing or is potentially unstable, such as those facing complicated surgery; those with a serious medical condition such as heart disease or cancer; women with high-risk pregnancies; and people undergoing long-term treatment, such as chemotherapy.
If medical records that are stored or processed on a computer cannot be accessed, the health care of these patients can be threatened, Riccardi said.
The solution is simple, he said. Get hard copies of medical records now. This is not necessary for all patients, he adds, just those higher-risk patients.
Riccardi suggests the following tips for determining if you need to get hard copies of your medical records:
- How is your health? If it is changing, or unstable, ask your doctor if there is anything special you need to do to prepare for Y2K, such as obtaining medical records. If your doctor agrees your condition is serious enough to obtain all your medical records, start to request your records from hospitals or other institutions that have computerized records. You will not need to obtain medical records from your doctor since clinics and doctors' offices rely on hard copy records.
- Know which records you need to get copies of, specifically those that are stored in or processed by computers. The most important are institutional records, including hospital patient records, surgical center records and radiology and laboratory records.
- Identify the most recent hospital where treatment was administered; most often it will have records that contain details of your past treatment(s).
- Write a letter to the hospital's medical records department requesting copies of specific types of records. You can also visit the department in person or request the documents through your personal physician.
- Make sure that you forward a copy of all records you gather to your personal physician. He or she may not have all of them.
- Secure copies of all records in a safe place at home.
- Begin requesting copies of current and future medical records on a routine basis.
- Begin generating your own personal medical records -- in the form of a diary or journal, for example.
'This is not doomsday advice,' Riccardi said. 'But why wait until January and then realize you have a problem? The solution is so simple -- get all your records beforehand.'
Vincent M. Riccardi, M.D., M.B.A., clinician and president of the American Medical Consumers, La Crescenta, Calif., 1-800-836-5262.
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