I was chatting the other day with a family member about the importance of vitamin D for optimal health. I mentioned that vitamin D metabolism can vary significantly from person to person and this is why just telling someone to “take x amount of vitamin D” is less useful than saying “maintain a healthy level of vitamin D in your bloodstream.”
“My doctor checks my vitamin D level twice a year,” he said. “Great!” I replied. “What is your vitamin D level?”
“My doctor said it’s fine,” came the response.
I replied that many doctors think a vitamin D level of 30 is “fine,” while others recognize that values in the 60 to 80 range are preferable and I asked if he had ever been told his vitamin D value.
“Nope. But the doctor says it’s fine.”
Ok, then, but you still don’t know what it is!
While it’s perfectly admirable to have a trusting relationship with one’s physician, staying in the dark about things like your vitamin D level, lipid studies, or other lab tests doesn’t allow you to check for yourself whether or not your doctor’s opinion of “fine” is really in line with your opinion of fine. Moreover, having ready access to your labs will make discussions with other physicians easier, either because you’re seeking a second opinion or if it’s an unrelated matter (for example, your OB/GYN asks you what your vitamin D level is, you can give a number instead of saying “fine”). If you change physicians, having a copy of important test results can be a godsend if your records are lost or delayed in being transferred from your previous physician.
As useful as medical records are in preventive care, they’re even more important if you are being treated by multiple physicians for a more serious or chronic matter. In such cases, having copies of your records, and being familiar with them, can help you ensure that your physicians are communicating thoroughly and accurately. Ive been in a situation where one physician says “I’d like to run a blah blah test on you” and I respond, “Dr. X ran that test last month and here are the results.” In an ideal world physicians would communicate so effectively that there would never be a case of a needlessly repeated test but the last time I looked out my window, it wasn’t an ideal world. It’s up to each of us to be the principal advocate for our health and a backup custodian of our vital records.
It’s pretty simple to do: each time your doctor orders a test, ask for a copy of the results to take with you. I’ve never had a physician hesitate at such a request.
Most seem pleased that I care enough about my test results to keep a copy.