Keeping track of your medical records — even keeping your own records — is an important part of dealing with any serious medical problem. With any disease, including breast cancer, continuity of care is crucial. All of your doctors should have immediate access to the results of all tests and procedures you have undergone, since comparing test results over time is such an important part of designing successful treatment. All of them should get copies of any test results, and any doctor who is no longer on your team should be taken off the report list.
Here are some important points to keep in mind:
- You have a legal right to all of your medical records. Only you can authorize the release of records between hospitals or from a hospital to an individual. A personal letter, note, or signed form is required.
- All new films or digital images from mammograms or other imaging tests should be compared with earlier ones, which are generally stored at the site where they were taken. Both old and new films or files should be stored at one center. If you change centers, arrange to have your file moved with you. Some women maintain their own file of breast images in their home (copies, that is — most hospitals keep the original mammograms). This may be easier to do if you have digital mammograms or other imaging tests, so your doctor can give you the images on a CD rather than in hard-copy film format.
- Ask for and keep copies of all pathology and other tissue and blood test results. It’s easy enough for your doctor’s office to make you a copy of these paper reports so you will always have them on hand.
- If you are seeking a second (or third) opinion on your care, mammogram, or other tests, the consulting physician will want to go over your history, reports, films, and records. Consider carrying your records to the appointment yourself if the consulting doctor is out of state, if this is a last-minute appointment or if you’re worried about the mail not making it on time. Most doctors want to see the imaging test reports and the actual films, so get both. You can also have your doctor’s office send your reports and films to the hospital or office where you’re receiving a second opinion. In general, copied films are fine, but mammogram originals are the best way to evaluate subtle changes in the breast. Getting your hands on those originals may involve a test of your patience and persistence. Remember, they are films of you and you have paid for them. You have every right to them.
- You are the best agent to cut through red tape and delay and to collect all essential information. When you are dealing with your doctor’s office, radiology department, pathology lab, or any other department, clarify exactly how, when, and where you would like to receive the material you want. Be sure to get the complete file. Make an appointment to pick up your records. You may need to assert yourself and be very persistent, but do what you have to do to get the information you need.
For more detailed information and advice about record-keeping, see Breastcancer.org’s section on Managing Your Medical Records.