Medical records are a combination of both self-reported patient information and a physician's notes on diagnosis, care, and treatments. Good medical records capture as much information about a patient’s health history and personal habits as possible, they include present and past illnesses and medical conditions like allergies. They also include documentation on lab findings, diagnosis, and treatment plans.

Medical histories are a portal through which a doctor and other medical staff can step into the life of a patient to learn about their lifestyle. Doctors can glean from their lifestyle to understand how it has affected their prior care and whatever impacts it can have on their current diagnosis. When a hospital has a patient’s well documented medical history the medical team can prepare better treatment plans that take into account the risks the patient may face. Doctors can determine if a patient has a higher-than-usual chance of having common disorders like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancers, and diabetes.

Very often, it is important for the entire family’s medical history to be included in a patient’s file so the medical team can get a better picture of the patient’s state of health. This will help them take steps to reduce the patient's risk.

Historically speaking medical histories have been paper-driven. This analogue format made medical histories prone to error, omission, and loss. Thankfully, medical histories have entered the digital age. Technological advances have allowed more thorough databases that are instantly accessible while reducing the dangers associated with paper records.

However, Medical histories do more than give doctors a better understanding of the patients, they help everyone, especially the patients. As a patient or even as a healthy individual, having access to your digital medical history becomes easier and you can be your own best advocate. Here are 5 reasons it is important for everyone to know their medical histories

1. Know Your Risks for Hereditary Diseases and Disorders

A good medical history will include health information from you and close family. Risks for diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancers can be genetically inherited. While this doesn’t mean one will become ill, it can help with planning to live the healthiest lifestyle possible. It could mean deciding to eat healthier, exercise more often or take more frequent medical exams. Doctors may recommend more frequent mammograms for patients with a family history of breast cancer, for example.

2. To Get Better Care.

If someone is sick or just taking a routine checkup, it helps to be informed on the medical history when going to the doctor. It can help with asking the right questions and feeling more secure in your care. Individuals in charge of a patient's care will also use it as a quick and easy reference to share with other members of the medical team who need it, making it easier to provide quality care.

3. To Help Family Members Who Are at Risk of Disease

As an individual, knowing your medical history isn’t just for your benefit. You can use it to alert other family members of their predispositions to certain diseases. Be sure to keep a record of your family history as children are born or if family members develop illnesses. After you add them, inform your doctor about the changes. This could be a valuable tool for the generations yet to come.

4. Keep Track of Medications

Surprisingly, when asked by doctors, most people give incorrect information on their medication lists. It’s not no one's fault. The memory can be trick sometimes. However, properly kept medical records, provide an easy way to keep track of medications.

5. Your Medical History Can Be Invaluable in an Emergency

When there’s a limited amount of time, quick access to medical information could mean the difference between life and death. If a hospital does not have a patient's file stored digitally it could mean that unnecessary time is spent going through paper files. This is why it is important for everyone to talk to their doctors who are not already using Electronic Medical Records (EMR's) to get one. We want to make sure you have the right information on hand at the right time, wherever you are.

Remember, if you are a medical professional, it is your responsibility to not only provide care to patients, but also to keep thorough, methodical records of their symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments.  Without this follow-through, any physician who subsequently treats your patients will not be able to provide the best care possible. It is also important to keep your patients, or at least their close friends and family in the loop. Take full advantage of the usefulness of your patients’ medical records.  Too often, their lives depend on it.