Accessing Medical Records

In an increasingly mobile society, getting and transferring medical records has become a commonplace need. Public Citizen Health Research Group,, correctly points out these facts about medical records:

  • You are entitled to your own medical records, though you usually have to put the request in writing and probably pay copy charges (Be aware, that these charges are usually set by state statute, and that it is not uncommon, especially when the records are requested following medical malpractice, for hospitals to erroneous charge excessive rates. So be sure to research the prices for research the prices for your state (try Googling: medical record copy costs and the name of your state)
  • Others,such as insurance companies, other medical care providers, government agencies, and even your employer may gain access to your medical records. Mostly they gain this right with your consent. Typically, you will be asked to sign a medical release document granting them these rights as a condition for getting benefits.
  • There are circumstances where a provider may deny you access to certain types of medical records. Generally speaking, these special types of records are protected from disclosure for public policy reasons. Examples would include: psychotherapy records, hospital incident reports, records created by the hospital for the purpose of evaluating quality of medical care, and in some circumstances records relating to “private” matters, such as acquired immune deficiency.
  • Generally speaking, you are entitled to get copies of your records only; however, there may be situations where the law allows you to acquire the records of others. This includes: parentsgetting the records of minor children; legal (court-appointed) guardians getting the medical records of their ward; and agents such as lawyers, who have acquired the right by a valid Power of Attorney.
  • While medical care providers usually keep records for it five to eight years, there is no uniform law that requires a specific time. Consequently, it is a good idea to request your records whenever you are finished using a specific hospital or doctor.
  • HIPPA sets national standards for medical records privacy, but does not apply unless the provider maintains and transmits records in electronic form. If your provider does, HIPPA provides that you have the right to see, get a copy of, and amend and supplement you medical records.
  • Most other issues regarding health records are governed by state law, so take the time to research what your state has to say.

Author’s note: While Public Citizen has much good to say about many things, please do not assume that CH&H agrees with everything that organization says. We do not.

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