A written record of your health history can help prevent many medical errors, doctors say. "If you record details when they're fresh in your mind, you won't forget to tell your doctor something important," says Dr. Michael Weaver, an associate professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Here's how to start:
Cover the basics ... Include major illnesses or injuries, chronic diseases, hospitalizations, surgeries, allergic reactions, immunizations, screening tests and your blood type. Also list names and dosages of medicines and supplements (and check spelling; many have similar names).
But don't go overboard: You don't need to record minor illnesses such as colds or strep throat.
Go for dates. Whenever possible, include the date of events and new prescriptions. List both the admission and discharge date for hospital stays.
Research your family history. Find out as much as you can about diseases and causes of death for your parents, grandparents, siblings and aunts and uncles. Many illnesses have a genetic component.
Fill in holes. Ask your doctor's office for copies of past medical records and read back as far as you can.
Record your symptoms. If you have a long-term issue such as diabetes or chronic pain, write down blood sugar and pain readings and what was going on in your life at that moment. Your doctor may be able to spot patterns and recommend lifestyle or medication changes.
Stay up to date. Note any new medication, symptoms or health emergency.
Bring your journal to your doctor. Carry it to even routine appointments.