Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How I keep paperless files for my kids with special needs

If you have a child with special needs, you know that on top of caring for your child comes managing a mountain of paperwork. At the first support group I attended for parents of kids with special needs, an experienced parent urged us all to keep records. Her adult son needed a medication adjustment and she couldn't remember exactly which medications had worked in the past and at which doses. I took her advice and it has already paid dividends.

The amount of paperwork that follows each of my sons is astounding. There are Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) from school, medical test results, prescriptions, seizure action plans, reports from doctors, letters and notes from therapists, insurance forms and so much more. Because my sons came to us through foster care and adoption, the paperwork pile is even deeper — or it would be if I hadn't hit on a digital organization system that works for me. Except for the few documents that must be kept as originals such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, I keep nearly all files on my computer and backed up in the cloud. Here's how.

1. As much as possible, I request information be sent to me in PDF form by email so physical papers never have to hit my mailbox. However, most of my children's care providers don't have systems for electronically sharing documents that are secure enough to comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the confidentiality of health information). That means I'm usually stuck with paper.

2. As soon as paperwork makes it into my home, I sometimes let it age on the kitchen counter for two to three months before I do anything else with it. I strongly recommend you skip this step.

3. I scan everything. I like the free DocScan app for my iPhone and iPad from IFUNPLAY. It's easy to use and can create PDF or JPEG documents. I like that I can scan wherever I am and don't need to sit at the computer and use the flatbed scanner.

4. I file my sons' paperwork in logical computer folders and subfolders, just as a would if I were filing them in a cabinet with fat hanging files and thinner manila folders.
  • Each of my sons has a main folder with his name on it.
  • From there, each has a set of category folders: Dentist, Legal, Medical, Mental Health, School, Diagnoses (named Autism, Cerebral Palsy, etc., which is where I file general information I learn about each diagnosis).
  • Under each of these categories are subfolders.
    The Medical subfolders include: Health Insurance, Immunizations, Vision, Doctors (I have a folder for each doctor by last name).
    Mental Health subfolders (in my state, developmental disabilities are handled through the community mental health agencies) are: Person Centered Plans, Respite and Programs (listed by program name, such as Autism Center and Community Living Support).
    School subfolders include: Audiologist (because this is done at school), Behavior Intervention Plans, IEPs, Report Cards, School Nurse, Transportation and Teachers (each teacher has a folder by year).
5. I use the free Dropbox cloud service to store and back up all of my information. Instead of keeping things in the My Documents folder on my computer, I keep them directly in the Dropbox folder that was placed on my computer when I installed the program, which is easy to do. That way I don't need to drag my files anywhere to back them up, which I would probably forget to do.
If you would like to try Dropbox, you could sign up from this Dropbox referral link so we would both get some bonus space.

Later I'll share how I keep a running log of my sons' medications and changes made over the years.

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