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If anyone out there is suffering from the illusion that your medical records are accurate, let me clue you in. The chance that your records contain substantive errors is about 75%. The chance that your records are error free is within the margin of error for 0%.

Doctors and their staff maintain, and I use that word loosely, your records as if they are only for their use and will never be seen by anyone outside of their office. Given that point of view, things like updating family or social history, or asking you to review your records occasionally to help avoid errors, just aren’t in the cards. They just want to stuff it in there and get it back on the shelf.

Case in point is a client who quit smoking about a year and a half ago. He applied for life insurance and even though his labs showed negative for nicotine use, his records indicated that he was attempting to quit and having a very challenging time of it. This entry was 9 months after he had quit. The same entry under his social history was there from the year before. They never bothered to update the social history and he didn’t think, since they didn’t ask, to bring it to their attention. The life insurance underwriter deferred to the records and offered my client a smoking rate.

Once we found this error, a very common error of dragging information forward from one visit to the next without updating, he came across more errors. According to the family history both of his parents were deceased. This was news to him since he had just spent a weekend with them. The errors have now been corrected and we were able to get the smoking rate changed to non smoking and his parents are no longer dead.

Just like your credit record, your medical records need to be reviewed occasionally. It may not be the most exciting weekend activity you’ve ever come up with, but the longer errors are left alone, the less likely you will find them and the less likely that you can get them corrected. Doctors aren’t real big on correcting old errors when it is a you said/he said a long time ago situation. The best practice is to ask your doctor or nurse to scan or fax you a copy of the completed notes after any office visit. A fresh error is easily corrected.

Bottom line. Getting an error corrected mid underwriting is tough. Doctors don’t jump on these tasks as top priority. They also don’t like changing records because that is admitting that they did something wrong and they see malpractice written all over that admission. And underwriters, rightly so, are often a little skeptical about changes in records that occur during underwriting. They, depending on the error, might see it as a manipulation of the system to improve your perceived mortality risk.