How to Organize Medical Records

December 15, 2020

All too often, people realize that they need to figure out how to organize medical records when they are in the midst of a medical crisis – which usually means that they are in no state mentally, emotionally, or physically to do so. Aside from increased pressure in an already stressful situation, disorganized medical records and bills in a health crisis can lead to a financial nightmare. Double paying some bills, and missing others altogether is a common occurrence. Additionally, an astounding 80% of medical bills contain billing errors that can result in higher costs, rejected insurance claims, and a slew of other problems. When individuals stay on top of their medical bills and store medical records online, they can usually find and address errors, preventing predicaments down the line.

It’s plain to see that it really pays to get a basic system for how to organize family medical records worked out ahead of time. If a major medical crisis should hit, you and your family can better focus your energy and time where it belongs – on health, healing, and taking care of each other. You’ll also be able to enjoy better peace of mind in the meantime. 

There are different systems for organizing medical bills and records, from keeping a simple binder to taking advantage of an online document management system such as Pillar. Different methods may work better for some people than others. Let’s touch on some of the basics of health record management, and you can take whatever works best for your particular needs.

Should I Stick With Paper Records or Go Electronic?

Some of the most popular methods for personal medical records management include three-ring binders, file folders, and electronic document storage – online or off. The differences between paper-based and electronic ones boil down to a few factors.

How many files do you need to keep? Binders and filing cabinets can easily fill up with paperwork, while electronic systems can hold a lot of information cleanly. It can be first helpful to start by being aware of what should be included in a medical record so that you know where to start.

Do you need to be able to access your records from multiple locations, such as while traveling or if more than one person is working together to manage the bills? Online systems shine in portability and ease of access. Just be sure that your medical record and other information is kept secure with a reputable service such as Pillar

How Do You Organize a Medical Binder or Paper File?

A dedicated medical binder can be an option for an individual or family with simple needs, and few bills to track. 

  1. First, keep a master list of all medical and pharmacy expenses, organized by date. 
  2. A second section can contain all bills with the corresponding insurance explanation of benefits (EOBs) attached. Bills are usually organized by date of service, with the most recent on top. 
  3. If you have to file your own insurance claims, rather than the provider doing so on your behalf, you can keep a third section for claims to be submitted, and a fourth for pending claims. Completed claims can be then attached to the original bill. 

Paper file folders can be organized with similar principles as a file cabinet. A file cabinet may accommodate more documents than a binder but loses portability. In case of a disaster, all files could be lost. You also must be physically located in the room with the file cabinet to take advantage of it, so it's not a great choice for people who are on the go or sharing financial responsibilities with someone in another home. Online record-keeping especially when it comes to your medical history, may be better suited for people in these situations.

How do you Organize an Electronic Health Records Management System?

Medical bills can be organized electronically in a similar fashion, at its core, as a paper-based system. Start with a master list or spreadsheet to begin your electronic health record. Dedicate a folder to bills, organized by date of service, and paired with EOBs and any other pertinent medical information. Folders for files to be submitted and pending claims may also be helpful. Also, be aware of how long doctors have to keep medical records so that you know in what priority to request your personal health record.

What Kind of Medical Records Should I Keep?

Explanation of Benefits (EOB)

An explanation of benefits is a document from the insurance company explaining which costs were covered by insurance, and how much is your responsibility.  Insurance companies often negotiate discounts with their network of healthcare providers, and any amount that is written-off in this way will be described on the EOB.

Medical Bills

When it comes to your personal health record, there may be multiple bills from the same procedure. For example, a single surgery may result in separate bills from the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the hospital, and the lab. It’s a good idea to request an itemized statement if you don’t receive one for every type of medical care you receive because it’s much easier to compare charges and spot any mistakes in billing. 

How Do I Organize My Medical Bills and Records?

Many individuals work out particular systems to organize their family’s medical bills and records. Use the following suggestions as is, or adjust them as needed to work for your family’s unique needs. It generally works best to organize each family's medical records in their own separate health information file. Your health record is important and you should ask, “What is my right to access medical records?” When it comes to your medical care, there are rights to protect you.

Keep a Master List of Medical Services

For simpler medical records, it’s recommended to keep a master list of medical services, including prescriptions, lab work, and other procedures. Organizing medical records by date, and making a note of any amount paid out of pocket can help. 

Spreadsheet masters can be extremely helpful tools for more complex records. Include columns for:

  • Date of service
  • Healthcare provider name and medical office
  • Type of service (office visit, medication, outpatient procedure, etc)
  • Total out of pocket costs, divided into categories (Copay, Coinsurance, Deductible)
  • Remaining balance. This amount may need to be updated periodically, for example, as secondary insurances are processed. This can be very helpful for keeping track of outstanding balances.
  • Insurance coverage. Include columns for each type of insurance that pertains in your situation, such as Medicare, primary, secondary or supplemental insurances, etc. Notate how much each paid, and if your insurance company requires you to file for reimbursement on your own, or the provider won’t do it for you, make a note of the date filed.
  • Notes

Keep All Medical Documents

Include invoices, EOBs, any medical documents, hospital records, and receipts. If you’re missing a piece of your electronic medical record that you want on hand, learn how to answer the question, “How do I get my medical records?

Organize Everything by Date of Service

Organize all documents by date of service, with the most recent first. You can include health care, dental care, and prescriptions together in the same file, or in three separate files if you prefer. 

Match Bills with EOBs

As bills come in, match each with the corresponding explanation of benefits (EOB) from the insurance company. Note that a single EOB may include more than one medical bill or vice versa. Make copies as needed so each is paired, and then staple, clip or attach them together in your binder or electronic health records management system.

Check for Errors

Be sure to check each bill and EOB carefully to ensure there are no billing errors. If any are noted, call the medical provider or insurance company to discuss. 

Filing Medical Records

If the provider won’t bill your primary or secondary insurance company directly, you will be responsible for filing medical records with them on your own. Contact the company for instructions on how they handle claim submissions. Usually, they need copies of itemized bills and EOBs for any other insurance coverage, along with their own claim forms. Make a note of dates filed on your master spreadsheet, and keep copies of everything you submitted for easy reference.

Organized Medical Records are Key

While medical records and bills can feel overwhelming, the key is to create a system of organization that is simple at its core but can expand to contain the necessary details when needed. Pillar offers a secure, portable, and customizable platform for organizing these records in a way that works best for your family’s needs. With top of the line cybersecurity, records can be accessed from any online device, but only by those to whom you have granted permission – which may include family members across the nation. This is ideal for siblings who are working together to help with aging parents’ health care and finances. 

By setting up a good system for organizing your medical bills and records, you can save yourself money, time, and energy — possibly right when you need it the most.

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