Tools to Manage Ongoing Care

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By Ed Steger

pillboxes.jpgEd Steger was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in mid-2005. After a few rough patches, he has had no evidence of disease for more than four years and has been in remission for more than two years. He writes about his cancer experience at

There's a lot we can learn from one another. There are five simple tools I use to manage my ongoing health care. It's more common sense than rocket science and on average I literally spend less than two minutes a day using them. Yet, these tools have saved me countless hours, reduced my stress level and addressed some thorny insurance issues.

1. Keep a daily medication log. I began my log more than five years ago. It started as a paper log in a spiral notebook, but is now a simple Excel spreadsheet filled with more than 20,000 rows of data. The spreadsheet has eight columns: date, day, time, generic medication name, actual medication name, dose, number of pills (or liquid) and a comments field.

I take medication three times a day and typically spend about 30 seconds updating the log after I take my morning, afternoon and evening pills. I use the copy and paste function to make a new set of rows each day from the prior day's set. This log helps me in the following ways:

  • I don't miss taking my meds.
  • I don't take my meds twice.
  • I can filter the log to see a history of "as needed" meds.
  • I have a complete record for all upcoming doctor visits.

2. Use a pill box. I actually use five small weekly ones that allow me to cover my medication needs for an entire month. My medication list is currently stable and I've timed their refills so they're all ready at the same pharmacy at the same time at the end of each month. It took a little work to get to this point, but it means going to the pharmacy just once each month. Between the trip to the pharmacy and filling each of the week's pill boxes, this takes less than an hour a month.

Once finished, I don't have to give it another thought until the following month. One other item here, I find it surprisingly easy to run out of refills. So, as part of my monthly routine I do look at the "refills remaining" information on each pill bottle.

Doctor visits
3. Keep a log of your doctor visits. I began this more than four years ago. My log has three columns: date, parking amount (don't ask) and a comments field. A sample comment field entry is, "blood draw, chest X-ray, CT scan and oncology clinic visit (Dr. Smith)." This log helps me address insurance issues. I once received an insurance explanation of benefits (EOB) statement that said "revised" and was from a clinic visit 2.5 years earlier.

Using this log in conjunction with my binder of EOB statements was a snap to clear up whatever mischief someone was trying to cause. Without this, it could have been one more insurance headache. The log also provides a quick snapshot of my health care history at any point in time.

Medical files
4. Keep a binder with your records. Andrew Giffith did a great job talking about this in a recent Cancerwise blog.

Adding to Andrew's thoughts, I also keep a binder that's not directly health related. My binder stores information chronologically within each tab and includes insurance plan information and "to" and "from" correspondence with various insurance providers. It seems the more you need health insurance the more important it is to keep organized records.

I used to keep a record of my medical files including clinic visits, blood tests and pathology reports. Now that these are available to me online at MD Anderson,  I no longer have to actively update this binder.

For more information on this, see the Houston Chronicle story, "Texas Doctors Lead Open Notes Movement."

Yes, that's me in the picture; I'm pretty sure the photographer got my "good" side.

Internet searchs
5. Set up Google Alerts. I have a variety of alerts, some daily, others weekly. I have one for "head neck cancer," and others for various topics in which I'm interested. If you're not familiar with this Google feature, I suggest Googling it.

Each week, I get one email from each alert that contains a list of news stories on the topic that appeared during the prior week. It's an efficient and easy way to stay abreast of current and emerging developments. Plus, it's ad free, simple to manage (add, change, delete) and costs nothing.

Read more posts by Ed Steger

1 Comment

Good article and pointers. You are more systematic than I am. Cheers, Andrew

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