We never really thought about our medical records while living here in the USA. We'd go to the doctor, hospital, dentist or optometrist and they'd maintain all our records. If we moved, we simply asked the records to be forwarded to the new clinicians at the new place. No big deal.
Then, we moved aboard Nine of Cups. Instead of moving every 5-10 years for business, we were moving 5-10 times in a year at a minimum. Healthcare could and did occur in many places. David had surgery and was in-hospital in Charleston, SC and again in La Serena, Chile. I've had mammograms each year since we left the US, never in the same place twice. Likewise, we've had annual dental check-ups and dental work performed in at least ten countries and eye check-ups and new glasses all around the globe.
It was evident from the start we needed to start keeping track of what was done, when and where, and the results. We needed to maintain our own dental records and x-rays and mammo x-rays so current physicians and dentists had an established baseline to compare to new test results.
Interestingly enough, in many countries, the doctors and hospitals insist you maintain your own records. You couldn't walk out of a hospital or doctor's office in South America without picking up your x-rays and test results. It was your responsibility to maintain them and bring them with you to your next doctor's appointment. How convenient for cruisers. We had quite a library of x-rays aboard, stored in a large x-ray jacket under the forward bunk with our charts. Digital x-rays and reports, especially for mammograms and dental visits have made our lives much easier.
Beyond doctor's visits though, it's also important to keep track of other problems aboard, especially those requiring prescription drugs. Like most cruisers, we maintain a medical chest aboard which includes antibiotics, pain meds and various OTC drugs. I keep a log of all medical issues that occur including date, crew member, symptoms, self-diagnosis if any, treatment and follow-up. This includes urinary tract infections, diarrhea, ear infections, dermatological issues, each doctor's visit, new eyeglass prescription, etc. If we're not able to treat something aboard and we're in port, we can go to a local physician with a good history of what, if anything, has occurred in the past and is related. Otherwise, from year to year, we have a record of what's been checked, when our next follow-up visit should be and our own history of ailments and treatments. Whenever we visit a physician, we check our medical chest in advance and ask for new scripts of common drugs which need replacing due to use or out-dating. They're usually only too happy to comply.
Luckily, medical jargon is pretty much the same worldwide. In South America, every doctor we saw spoke English and gladly provided us with both Spanish and English versions of reports. Unfortunately in the US, we many times have to pay for our medical records. Really? I thought they were ours … not so. They belong to the institution and can be released to other medical facilities and doctors, but getting them ourselves is sometimes an issue and comes at a cost. Guess they don't think we're capable of maintaining our own medical histories. Hmmm … they obviously don't deal with cruisers much.