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Getting Organized At Work

Once you’ve developed your treatment strategy, you’ll likely want to focus on getting back to business. Unfortunately, cancer and its treatment can’t be relegated to after-hours, thus some overlap will require you to make the transition from work to treatment as seamless as possible. The same organizational skills you’ve honed on the job are the key to making this process run smoothly. Here are some steps to help guide the way.

Setting Up Your Files

Whoever predicted a paperless society never had cancer. The paperwork can be mind-boggling – filing insurance claims, preparing taxes, not to mention keeping track of your own thoughts. It’s all easier if you have solid organizational systems in place – at home and at work.

In addition to keeping a permanent set of files at home, it’s a good idea to have another portable set that you can carry between work and appointments. Designate a tote bag (LL Bean boat bags are easy to carry and just the right size) that’s large enough to hold x-rays and anything else you might need, such as:

  •  A notebook, to jot your impressions, notes, questions for the doctor, etc.
  • Digital recorder or tape recorder * Post-It Flags to highlight important pages
  • Pens, pencils & highlighters 
  • Books, newspapers, magazines – or portable work projects – for the waiting room
  • Blank checks, credit cards, debit cards or any other payment methods you’ll need
  • Calendar or date book

In addition, use one large file folder (vinyl ones are especially durable) to hold your vital paperwork. Keep it in your tote and bring it to every doctor’s appointment. Keep your original insurance card in the business card slot and stock the folder with:

  • Several copies of your insurance card (front and back). 
  • Insurance claim forms. 
  • Identification: driver's license, passport, or birth certificate.
  • Copies of your written medical reports.
  • Your medical history (A summary is helpful. Give to doctors or use as a guide when filling out pre-examination forms.)
  • Checklists of questions.
  • Your company’s policies: insurance, disability, vacation – anything pertinent to your situation.
  • Medical Reports: Set up by doctor or specialty. 
  • Health Insurance: Set up separate folders for:
    • blank forms
    • copies of forms submitted but not yet paid
    • reimbursement statements
    • a log to monitor insurance (click here for an easy-to-use example)
  • Research: Set up separate folders by topic, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, nutrition & diet, exercise & physical therapy, psychology, spiritual
  • Disability and life insurance policies.
  • In the course of researching your diagnosis, you may consult with several doctors from different specialties. Keeping a Doctors' Notebook can help you remember "who said what". This can be a small loose-leaf binder with pre-printed pages (use our template or create your own) or a spiral notebook, with each doctor on a separate page. Maintain business cards for every doctor you see in a card file as well.

Electronic & Online Organizing

While lugging around some paperwork is inevitable, you may be able to minimize clutter by keeping electronic files handy on your laptop or smartphone. The more streamlined your access to information, the more effortlessly you can shift between work and appointments.

Many of today’s ultra-portable laptops are light enough that adding them to your tote bag isn’t a burden. Scanning hard copies of documents – insurance policies, written medical reports, medical history, etc. – and keeping an electronic version on your laptop may make crucial information easier to organize and to access on the fly.

Similarly, using online services like Google Health to keep your records up-to-date and in one central location means you can access the information wherever you are, provided you have an internet connection. Before using any online service for storing your health records, carefully review their security and privacy settings to make sure you have control over how your information is accessed and used. Google Health, for example, doesn’t allow anyone to see your info without your permission – but does let you grant access to your healthcare providers if you choose. The site may, however, use your information anonymously to aggregate statistical information about users’ health, so if you’re not comfortable with that idea, you may want to pass on using the service.

Your smartphone may be another great resource for keeping your info with you at work and on the go. Some allow you to store files (PDFs, Word documents), such as those suggested above, and some offer specific applications geared at cancer patients, those with chronic illness or anyone wishing to organize their medical records. The iPhone, iPod touch and iPad have applications that are particularly useful to cancer patients on the move and other smartphones, like the Droid, are said to be following suit. Here are popular choices to make your handheld one of your most powerful organizational tools:

  • iChemoDiary – a free application from Merck to help you track your chemotherapy schedule, manage medication and record symptoms and side effects. Lets you create reports to share and discuss with your healthcare providers. (Free) 
  • Cancer Terms Pro – this database of thousands of treatment, prevention, diagnosis and oncological terms can help you, your coworkers and your employer understand all the complicated language involved. ($1.99)
  • My Medical -- a mobile database for your medical history and information, including lab results, medications, immunizations, contact info for all healthcare providers and insurance. ($1.99) 
  • iHealth Log – aimed at those with chronic disease, this app tracks appointments, medication, doses, test results & lab values. Also has a diary for jotting down notes and questions. ($4.99)
  • ExpressWell – designed to help simplify and clarify communication between you and your doctor. Tracks meds, physicians and treatment. ($0.99)

Remember, the idea is to keep all your info handy so that you have everything you need ready for doctor’s appointments – and you can spend your time at work focused on work, not scrambling to find paperwork pre-appointment.