Why Do You Need a Healthcare Navigation Binder?

Published by Beth Campbell Duke on

BYOB: Build Your Own Binder. Why you need a patient binder.

What is a Healthcare Navigation Binder?

The short answer is that a healthcare navigation binder (also known as a patient binder) holds the medical information you need to help you navigate your own healthcare journey. It contains information that you need for yourself or that you are often asked to provide healthcare appointments.

The longer answer is that a patient binder often contains the following information and sections:

  • A medical summary one-pager for emergencies or new physicians.
  • Your healthcare-related contact list.
  • A medication list on separate pages if/when it becomes too long for your 1-pager.
  • Sections and paper for taking notes at appointments.
  • Probably a section for test requisitions and instructions for upcoming tests and procedures.
  • A copy of your healthcare directive or other legal documents you or a care partner might need.
  • Test results that are important to physicians who may not have full access to your records (such as those in other health authorities or regions).
  • Symptom journal notes and/or vital sign tracking.

The types of information that you put into your binder are dependent on your situation and will evolve and change as your situation changes.

Why Carry a Healthcare Navigation Binder?

There are a number of reasons it makes sense to start carrying your own healthcare navigation binder, especially if you have a complex or chronic health condition, or you are a care partner with responsibilities to one or more people managing complex or chronic health conditions.

The 2 main functions of your binder are:

  1. To keep all of the information and forms you need in one place. Being organized is a massive benefit when you’re navigating the healthcare system. There’s a lot of ‘New Work‘ that falls to patients and care partners. It takes a lot of pressure off you when you can grab your binder and find the information you need easily.
  2. To ease communication among your healthcare team members. Your healthcare navigation binder isn’t just for you – it’s a tool that can speak for you in an emergency or if you’re unable.

One of Our Healthcare Navigation Binder Stories

Just after Tony’s lung transplant I came back to our apartment after grocery shopping to find a note saying Tony had called 911. The ER was 2 blocks away so I hustled over to find Tony cooling his jets in a bed with his binder on the table beside him. He had a non-life-threatening blip with his recovery that caused some pain and resulted in another surgery. The information in his binder was welcomed by both the EMTs and the ER staff.

I was asked if I was a nurse – so it also helped our credibility!

Another Binder In the News

In a recent CBC story, ‘medical mom’ Rachel Martens (@RaeOfSunshine79) writes about navigating the healthcare system with her son who had a rare disease. She speaks about the importance of having a patient binder:

A health information binder can be a lifeline when you just don’t have the functional ability to communicate well. It’s an easy place to keep health cards if you’re someone who loses them on a frequent basis. An “All About Me” page can host details like current height, weight, medications and dosages, a brief medical history, name and contact info for specialists, etc..

Keeping a binder can also help your significant other, who might not be as great at remembering the details as you are, or if there’s an emergency when a babysitter is over. Binders are an asset in Urgent Care or the Emergency Room, too!

Martens, Rachel. “I’m Not A Doctor But I Had To Learn To Talk Like One For The Health Of My Child.” CBC Parents, 16 Jun 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/ive-navigated-the-healthcare-system-as-a-mother-of-a-child-with-a-rare-dise. Accessed 30 Aug 2021.

I’m a big supporter of carrying a healthcare navigation binder. We now have binders for me as well as each of my parents.

How Do I Pull a Healthcare Navigation Binder Together?

Take some time to think about what sections of a patient binder are important to your own situation.

  • What information do you already have that you are often asked to share at appointments?
  • What information have you ever wished had been available when interacting with physicians or other healthcare providers?
  • What types of information does your binder need to hold, such as business and appointment cards, pamphlets, etc.? We have full-page sleeves for our binders as well as inserts to hold business cards.
  • Think about using dividers for sections. We also us a table of contents for Tony’s binder as it has so many sections we use numbered tabs now.

You don’t need to do this on your own. You have 2 options for accessing information on building your own Healthcare Navigation Binder:

  1. Download the information package: How To Build Your Healthcare Navigation Binder.
    • This is a digital download that includes information and templates for creating key pages in your binder. CLICK HERE to learn more.
  2. Join the ‘Learning the Ropes’ online course.
    • Building your binder is part of this course!
    • The course has 12 learning modules and also includes:
      • Modules on self-care, building your support networks and legal and financial issues,
      • Lifetime access to the course content and discussion boards for asking questions and sharing resources.
      • CLICK HERE to learn more.

Beth Campbell Duke

Beth is a science educator and family caregiver for her husband, Tony, and her parents. She's busy developing programs and materials to help other patients and family caregivers navigate the healthcare system and tell their stories. Beth's biggest wish is to see the healthcare system incorporate 'trauma-informed care' into its workplaces to address the growing number of healthcare providers, patients and family caregivers experiencing primary and secondary trauma.