Are you prepared to cope with the next disaster that comes along? Even when there is no loss of life, it can be very difficult for anyone to fully recover mentally and physically. Having electronic records and well thought out contingency plans could make a big difference in recovery. They help even in the best of times.
Imagine coming home from work one day and seeing what was left of your home surrounded by fire trucks and rescue workers. Or you smell gas and start through the front door just as the entire place explodes. Or there is a damaging storm, flood, forest fire, or earthquake. Every one of these things is not likely to happen to any single individual. However, over a person’s lifetime, probabilities add up, something serious could happen and we could lose everything. Some people are luckier than others. In addition, many people experience nuisances such as lost or stolen wallets, passports, credit cards or car keys at one time or another. These loses can happen away from home and in a foreign country. Although minor by comparison, until we get caught up in any situation, it can be difficult to understand their impact and realize the trouble and inconvenience they cause. It wastes a lot of time.
A woman in Missouri lamented as she stood in the ruins of her home. It had been rebuilt after being destroyed in an earlier storm only to happen again. She had just moved back in the week before. Someone else had a laptop stolen at a business conference and did not have their files backed up. Between Acts of God, carelessness and deliberate acts, many disruptive things happen. Imagine the bureaucratic nightmares that occur along with the pain and suffering. Being better prepared gets lives back together faster and easier.
Facing reality, if it were necessary to evacuate a home and never return to it again, it is highly unlikely that anyone could take along everything that would be needed. Without records it would be virtually impossible to substantiate insurance claims or establish a person’s identity. What if someone needed to be taken to a hospital and get help from a doctor who was not familiar with their case. How long would it be before they could be assessed and treated if they did not have a health record? Delay costs lives. Wouldn’t it be better if records were electronic and fit in someone’s pocket rather than in boxes of paper that had to be left behind?
People often lose everything they own when homes, neighborhoods and even whole towns are destroyed in fires, storms, earthquakes and floods. The recovery process is often long and painful. The last thing someone needs is bureaucratic red tape when they have already suffered enough. Nevertheless, minor discrepancies in paperwork invite bureaucratic nightmares. Whether information is missing, incomplete, inaccurate or simply does not match, even a typo that was made many years ago can be hard to change. The rules of the game have changed, and we need to be able to substantiate who we are and everything about us. Digital records that we carry with us or are backed up in “the cloud” make data available when and where it is needed.
Even if paper records are not destroyed, they deteriorate over time. Sorting through a shoe box for something and finding that it has become faded and is no longer readable can be pretty frustrating. Conversion to electronic records is a big improvement. Although it takes time, gradual steps make a difference right away and not everything will need to be converted.
We recommend the following.
1. Start by preparing basic contingency plans. When calamities strike, being ready to address them is essential. Plans can always be improved.
2. Collect and save electronic files instead of paper ones, whenever possible. Digital records provide convenience and portability. Electronic records are easy to create when work is done a little at a time. They are easy to search. For example, include a list of phone numbers to call for help, a copy of a driver license or passport, a list of account numbers and instructions to access them on-line, copies of family photos, receipts, certificates, wills, powers of attorney, insurance policies, deeds, and tax returns.
a. File records chronically by subject. They can always be reorganized.
b. Use file types such as PDF that can be read by anyone’s computer, tablet or smartphone.
3. Create and include a consolidated, organized, digital summary of your health history. It will help you to get in the habit of keeping electronic records, provide peace of mind, and enable professional caregivers to get up to speed quickly so they can help you when it is needed. Use Lifelong Personal Health Record software (http://www.lifelongphr.com/) to store your data and create the summary.
4. Backup Important Files. In addition to having master copies on a personal computer where you can control and protect your data, backup electronic files using an encrypted Internet service and put copies on small portable devices such as smartphones, flash drives, tablets, bracelets and medallions for easy access. Security is important to avoid worry about what someone else is doing with your data.
Not a Do-It-Yourselfer? Contact us for assistance.
A few years ago, I printed a few thousand pages per month on my laser printer. I wore out several of them and used dozens of cartridges and countless cartons of paper. Today, I hardly ever turn my printers on. In many respects I have gone paperless and have readily searchable files in electronic filing cabinets. However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Along with the benefits, there is a downside.
I can remember seeing people on television who had lost all of their personal records. One woman tearfully told a reporter how all of her children’s baby pictures were in the house that they were watching float down a river to certain destruction. A survivor of Hurricane Katrina had also lost all his medical records when his hospital and doctor’s office were distroyed. It was difficult for him to tell doctors what they needed to know to treat him. Having electronic records in their pockets would have helped both of them.
Businesses also save millions of dollars of postage and other costs when they can send out bills via email, and it is easier and cheaper for customers to pay online. There are security concerns, but think of all the forests that can be saved. Yet, email reminders may get lost and there are healthy penalties for failing to pay on time, and people who need receipts must now print their own. Also, if you store your records online, in a cloud somewhere, there is no guarantee that the business will not be discontinued as is happening with Google Health and their online personal health records. Fortunately, for Google Health’s users, Google is giving their customers plenty of time to find alternatives and make an orderly transition.
For the do-it-yourself electronic recordkeepers, there is another set of challenges. People who remember 35mm slides, 5-1/4 inch and 3-1/2 inch diskettes, 8-track tape, VHS and music cassettes, and other obsolete media have probably agonized when they found that they no longer had a means of using their old media. When they could find a working machine to read it, they often found that the media had degraded and could no longer be read. Electronic files become corrupted and, at best, it can take a costly commercial or government process to attempt to reconstruct electronic information. It is certainly not possible for the masses.
I have scanners that enable me to convert documents and pictures into digital files. I could not be without them. However, once something is digital, dangers of corrupted files and outdated media need to be addressed. The first time I lost a few pictures on a camera memory card reminded me that everything has a failure mode. Same thing with hard drives that have a lot of moving parts and wear and tear. Then there are CD-ROMs and DVDs. Even if they stay in their jackets and avoid scratches, they will ultimately deteriorate. Molecules constantly jump around and fields from magnetic particles damage adjacent areas on tapes.
Backing up information is extremely important no matter where it resides. Consider the smartphone with the MicroSD card. The phone can be lost or stolen. It can fall into water. However, even electronic solid-state memories have life expectancies like my camera memory card. Some fail prematurely. Same with ubiquitous flash drives. Some memories are consumer grade, designed to last several years; others are commercial grade and cost a large premium, but should be good for ten years or so.
Even experts get surprised. Redundancy is the best way to minimize risk and exposure. Part of a good backup policy says to separate the copies as far as possible. We are reminded of the small company in San Francisco that kept backups on a different floor in the same building. They were lucky, but what if an earthquake had damaged or destroyed the building.