Memory Triggers: For Patients and Doctors Too!

Jan Gambino Health Guide
  • I felt much better after visiting my primary care physician for a yearly check up. It wasn't because she told me that I was healthy and to come back in a year unless I was having a problem (although it is reassuring to get a positive diagnosis from the doctor!).  What made me feel really reassured was the conversation we had. We chatted about our children and I asked about her baby. Coincidentally it was his birthday on the day of my visit. We talked about how fast a year goes and she paused for a moment. Then she said, "I have to go check his baby book because now I can't remember if he was born at 10:49am or 1:49pm. I always get confused between the time of his birth and the timing of his older sister's birth!" I just smiled to myself. If my doctor needs to consult her notes and records for information about her own children, then I don't feel so absent minded about forgetting the facts and figures about my kids when I am in the doctor's office. Keep in mind that my doctor is highly qualified and remembers me from the sea of faces that come into her office each day. Even though I come in to see her only once or twice a year, she remembers vital information about my history.

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    I keep a small spiral notebook for each of my children so I can write down symptoms as needed and record information from doctor's appointments. When I take the children to the pediatric gastroenterologist, I can see how long it has been since our last visit and update him on illnesses, doctor's visits and tests. I always request a copy of clinic notes and test results so I can show the specialists the exact information they need. After the visit, I write down details of the treatment plan.


    Another reason to request copies of medical records is to ensure that the information is correct. Many doctors scribble notes during an office visit or speak into a tape recorder and the notes are transcribed. Sometimes the information is incorrect. A small detail such whether your paternal (father's) grandmother or your maternal (mother's) grandmother had heartburn may not be a huge error. In other cases, a transcribing error such as an incorrect lab result may have greater consequences.


    Unfortunately, a few parents of infants and children with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) have told me the doctor accused them of exaggerating their child's medical history. Perhaps in the haze of illnesses a parent reported 4 ear infections in 6 months when they were 3 or 5 listed on the chart. Maybe you miscounted or mixed up your children who both have ear infections. Mix in 24/7 care giving with sleep deprivation and worry and it is likely any of us, parent or physician, would forget a few pieces of information.


    I hope you will go out to the store and buy a small notebook or binder to carry your child's notes and records. I keep my kids notebooks right by the medication so I can update the notebook as needed. I bring the notebook to each and every doctor's appointment and sometimes even to the dental appointments. That way, I can partner with my doctor to provide the best outcome for my child. At the same time, I can save my brain power for all of the other information swimming in my brain!


Published On: June 16, 2008