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By Kelly Whalen

Medical bills and documents can create a lot of clutter, so learning how to organize them is key, and it will be a time and sanity saver when you need to find specific information like the date of an immunization. Here are some ways to make sure all that documentation stays in order:

How to Store Medical Documents:

There are several options depending on what type of documents you receive.

Digital Documents: If possible, you should store these items digitally. As more and more healthcare insurers are moving to paperless options you can simply download PDFs of bills, statements, and explanation of benefits to store them. Some insurers and healthcare savings account companies offer digital storage options for receipts.

Paper Documents: If only paper copies are available, scan them for digital storage before you file them. For bills be sure to include the date you paid the bill.

Double Down: It's recommended you store important documents like these in at least two places, ideally a digital storage option and an external hard drive.

Sort Into Files: The simplest format is to create one file for each family member. This allows you to access that individual's medical records easily. You'll also want to sort each file in date order.

Different Insurers, Different Files: Keep a separate file for dental insurance, vision insurance and prescriptions, and medical insurance.

Tip: Storing items on your computer's hard drive isn't recommended, but if you do so, make sure to back up and keep your computer locked with a password. Since this information can be sensitive, if you're storing online be sure to choose a secure service, preferably with two-factor authentication (meaning you'll be asked to verify your identity twice before getting access, for instance with a password and a text message sent to your phone).

Which Medical Documents to Keep:

Benefit statements: Benefit statements, or estimates of benefits, are important to keep since they indicate what your insurance negotiated and is paying for services. At the minimum you need to keep the current year's paperwork and for any major surgeries or procedures. Be sure to also keep any statements related to accidents or injuries sustained during work. If you plan to file for a deduction based on medical expenses documents should be kept with your tax files for at least three years.

Copies of any bills: You may need them to be reimbursed by your spending accounts (HSA or FSA), to reference for your taxes, or track medical spending.

Receipts: Receipts for co-pays you may have made on the day of service.

Estimates: If you have cost estimates from your healthcare provider (such as a hospital) keep those on hand until you receive benefit statements or bills.

Copies of test results: Any testing you've had done, such as blood work results, should be stored in the individual's file.

Medical records: You can request copies of your medical records from your providers at any time. If you have been with your primary care doctor for a long time it might be a good idea to get copies of your records. Additionally, when you move or change care providers you can request copies. Be sure to request two copies, one for your personal records and one for a new care provider.

Which Medical Documents to Ditch:

These are things you don't need to hang onto.

Inserts: Often included with prescriptions, including mail order prescriptions, you can ditch the pages of side effects after reading through them. These are usually available online and you can discuss specific questions (eg. can I take this medication while taking another one) with your pharmacist or doctor.

Blank pages or pages with no info: It seems almost every bill or benefits statement comes with at least a page or two that has no info attached. Those can be ditched.

Triple (or more) copies: You may find that you have digital and physical copies of certain items. While it's helpful to have two places you store copies of documents-ditch the 3rd and 4th place they may be.

How to Spot Errors:

Medical bills aren't always accurate. Since mistakes sometimes happen it's important to go beyond organizing documents. It's helpful to have a spreadsheet that includes basic information like date of service, estimated cost, actual cost, and your out of pocket costs. Then you can go back over all your paperwork if something doesn't match up.