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DEAR ABBY: Please do your readers a favor and advise them to keep a copy of their own medical history. When they have any medical work done, such as an EKG, blood work, X-rays, etc., request a copy from their doctor for their records.

According to our state board of physicians, while doctors are required to maintain their patients' medical history for five years, there is no incentive, oversight or penalty to ensure that they actually do.

I found this out when the clinic I went to disbanded, and medical records over six months old were discarded. I lost 20 years of my medical history and learned of other patients in the same boat. Now I ask for copies of everything. -- LEARNED TOO LATE IN MARYLAND

DEAR LEARNED TOO LATE: That's good advice, and I'm pleased to help you publicize the message. The kind of record-keeping you describe has never been easier. I have received samples (in years past) of "workbooks" for filing medical and insurance information that can be purchased at local bookstores. I only wish they had been available to my mother when my brother and I were children. Then we wouldn't have to ask ourselves, "Was it chicken pox or measles? Mumps or swollen glands?"

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