filing, sorting, budgeting: a bit of advice from a medical paper-pusher

Paperwork makes me sick.  Seriously.

Okay, not as sick as this Lyme apparently has, but sick enough.  Yuck.

Last night I spent the entire evening wading through medical records, bills, and lab reports.  I was online shopping for supplements, finding the best deals and buying in bulk for free shipping and discounts.  I was typing up lists of all my supplements, what to take when, where I buy what, how much they all cost.  I was budgeting, figuring out where I was getting the money to pay for all these bills.  I was making spreadsheets - with pie charts, even - to breakdown all my expenses since my positive diagnosis.  I was staring dismayed at the amount of money I've spent in the last 5 weeks.  I was kicking myself for not keeping better records of the money I've spent since I started this whole journey almost two years ago.

Then for almost three hours this afternoon I was scheduling appointments, hashing through stuff with my insurance company, filling out forms, copying bills, assembling claim forms, and trying to organize a binder.  I was pulling my hair out trying to find diagnosis codes and ICD-9 codes.  Tonight will be more of the same.  And tomorrow.  And the next day.

Sound familiar to any of you?  I know it does.

Paperwork is the consequence of illness.  The longer you're sick, the more paper you have, and the more overwhelming it is to sit down with it all.  Especially when you aren't really always running at 100%.

For example, I called someone today and had absolutely no idea who I had called.  It was horrifying.

I know I've been needing to do stuff this for ages.  I was in desperate need of a record-keeping makeover.  I have kept almost every little thing for the last two years, but my organization system has existed in various piles and folders and binders in a number of places.  I  had a few spreadsheets started, but they were  incomplete.  I was terrible at submitting things to my insurance company.  Sure, I had done a lot already, but had totally slacked off on many things . This was long overdue.  And very necessary - I am embarking on a whole other journey of expenses now, and need to get my shit in order, frankly.  Especially before I start taking antibiotics and might feel totally out of it and really awful.

My biggest suggestions to anyone new to the whole world of doctor's appointments and massive amounts of supplements and all sorts of out-of-pocket expenses are as follows.  Take this advice seriously.  It will save you the headache of attempting to organize it all later when it has gotten out of control.  Plus, you can claim many medical expenses on your tax returns, and keeping track of it all year will save you from the torture of sitting down with all of it at tax time.  Organization can save you money.

  1. Get a BIG binder.  Or a couple little ones.  Get some of those tabbed dividers, some three-hole punched folders, some of those plastic page protectors, and a three hole punch.  Okay, you're ready.

  2. Keep all your receipts.  All of them.  Every appointment, every order of supplements, every prescription, every everything. Sort them in the binder in a way that makes sense - I like to keep it sorted by my different doctors, independent labs, supplements/vitamins, and miscellaneous.

  3. Make a spreadsheet of all your expenses, adding to it and updating as necessary.  For each expense list a category of expense description (appointments, prescriptions, supplements, travel, etc), the date, the location, payment method, if it was covered by insurance or your flex account, if you can submit it for reimbursement, and any other relevant information.

  4. Make a monthly budget.  After you track your medical expenses for a while, you might be able to figure out how much it is costing you per month.  Factor these expenses in with all your other living expenses in order to figure out how much wiggle room you have in your monetary world.  Medical bills add up quickly and very easily spiral out of control, so keeping track of your money is really important.  Even if it is more than you know how to pay for and you're in crazy debt, at least you'll know exactly how far in debt you are, right?

  5. Request a personal copy of any labwork, allergy testing, biopsies, radiology, or any other testing you have done.  Keep it all in a binder, sorted by date or by practitioner or by whatever method makes the most sense for you.  It WILL come in handy to have all this stuff yourself.  Your doctor can provide you with copies of anything,  it is your right to have them.

  6. If your doctor gives you follow up notes or lists of supplements and how to take them, keep them sorted in order. It is helpful sometimes to look back at where you were, for many reasons.

  7. if you filll out health history intake forms for a doctor before your appointment, make a copy, and keep it.  Then the next time you see a new practitioner, you can reference that copy when filling in the new form.  This way you won't forget to include anything, you won't have to go dig around for old vaccination records, and you can complete that new form much more efficiently.

  8. If you submit claims for FSA, HRA, or insurance reimbursement, keep a copy of all your claim forms.  I also keep a spreadsheet listing what I submit when; it is a good way to keep track of everything.

  9. If you take a lot of supplements, comparison shop.  There are lots of online stores that sell highly reputable vitamins and supplements, and it is easy to compare prices between them.  Online stores often  have sales, free shipping promotions, and sometimes there are discounts for buying in bulk.  You can even Google search for coupon codes for the store and find additional discounts sometimes - you'd be surprised at what is out there if you research.  Be a smart consumer.

  10. If you can get a good deal, buy supplements in bulk quantities - then you don't have to think about reordering all the time.

  11. Keep a list in your magical binder of your personal prescription and supplement inventory.  Mark off when you use one up, and when you only have one bottle left, reorder or refill. Then you are less likely to find yourself suddenly all out of  something important!

  12. Make a chart of all your pills you need to take during the day.  I have 7 categories I put in columns along the top: before breakfast, breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, dinner, before bed.  Then I list all my supplements along the side in rows.  Then I put the number of pills I am supposed to take for each one under the appropriate column.  Easy, at-a-glance way to see what you need to take when.

  13. MAke friends with your insurance company customer service people, and call them often.  If you are confused about your benefits or what you need to do to submit a claim, call them and ask them to explain and re-explain until you understand.   Call to check if practitioners are in your network before you have your first appointment, and if they aren't, ask what you need to do to submit a claim for their services.  Call if you have questions about prescription coverage. Call if you have questions about how to find a doctor.  Call if your bills seem weird.  Call, call, call.

  14. Keep a calendar dedicated to your appointments, along with a to do list of any additional calls or appointments you need to make.  Schedule things in far in advance; doctors fill up quickly, and it is important to stay on top of your appointments.

  15. Make lists.  Document how to do things.  Write yourself notes.  Even if it feels really obvious, write reminders to yourself.  Make it as easy as possible to remember to do things.  This is especially important if you've found yourself with some neurological symptoms and forget stuff easily.

Okay, there are my thoughts on that.  Back to working on doing all this stuff myself now.  Ugh.

What about you?  What suggestions do you have?  What are your tricks for staying organized amidst the madness of paper and medical records and appointments and pills?