Earlier this year, Elizabeth Brown, a non-profit communications specialist, decided to sign up for PicnicHealth, mostly out of curiosity. She has always enjoyed exploring new apps and digital services, especially those focused on tracking health data. Prior to PicnicHealth, she tried a few medical history tracking products but found it tedious to have to enter all her medical data herself. When she learned about PicnicHealth, she signed up immediately.
PicnicHealth collected all of Elizabeth’s records and provided her with a clean, digital timeline. Like many millennials, especially those who often move, Elizabeth had seen several doctors across different practices, but never aggregated all her medical history in one place. As Elizabeth clicked through her timeline, she noticed an abnormal Pap smear from a visit to a gynecologist two years ago. An abnormal Pap smear indicates that the cells of the cervix have shown slightly abnormal changes. Some abnormal cells are more likely than others to be cancerous - in short, an abnormal Pap smear absolutely warrants further testing. Elizabeth had never been contacted about the test result by her gynecologist.
Looking back, Elizabeth thinks the gynecologist and his office were simply disorganized. She remembers having trouble getting in touch with the doctor - he shared an office with other practitioners and was only there a couple of days a week, and there was no front-desk staff to answer calls from patients on the days he wasn't in. “I think it's just something that slipped through the cracks,” Elizabeth says. “I had been to other doctors in the past for things like Pap smears and STD tests where they'd say, â€˜No news is good news, if you don't hear from me the results are clear.’ And I think I assumed the same from this doctor.”
Elizabeth also attributes the oversight to a lack of understanding. “I never really fully understood the purpose of a Pap smear - it's like the self-breast exam, it's just something you're supposed to do regularly but it will always come back negative... until it doesn't.” And since she, like many others her age, didn’t have a primary care doctor pushing her to be on top of her routine care or asking her to follow-up and ask for test results, she just let it go.
Elizabeth is now working through additional tests with her new gynecologist. She is doing well, though she has no definitive answers yet. Her follow-up Pap came up abnormal as well, which means she unknowingly went for two years with abnormal cervical cell activity. Elizabeth’s story is an example of how easily a breakdown in communication can occur in today’s healthcare system.
Elizabeth is adamant about the importance of taking your health into your own hands - had she not had complete access to her medical records, she would never have discovered the abnormal Pap smear. “Your medical records are like your credit history - you absolutely have to be on top of it yourself. You can't just trust your healthcare providers or your insurance company to take care of things for you.”
She recommends that everyone sign up for PicnicHealth: “I tell everyone about it!” At the very least, she advises, always ask your doctor's office for a copy of your records and ask questions about anything you don't understand. “One of the major benefits to me of PicnicHealth is not just getting a copy of the records, but having them organized - even if I'd seen a copy of my abnormal Pap results, I don't think I would have been able to read them and understand what they meant without the essential info being extracted and translated into lay English by PicnicHealth. Knowing your own medical history and having copies of everything also gives you the freedom to change doctors whenever you want--you're not held hostage because a doctor you're not crazy about is the only one who has all your records and you don't feel like going through the hassle of requesting and transferring everything.”