Access to personal medical records is guaranteed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. Under this law, patients may submit a medical records request, and the personal medical records must be provided within 30 days. Though originally designed to provide access to paper medical files, the law applies to accessing electronic medical records (EMR) as well.
Obtaining your personal health record is as simple as making a medical records request from your doctor. The exact procedure for accessing a personal health record differs from state to state, with some requiring a written medical records request and others accepting a verbal request for your patient medical records.
Ways to Access Your Personal Medical Records in Writing
Some advocacy groups recommend that a medical records request be made in writing so you and the health care provider have a record of the transaction. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a pro-privacy group, has put together a sample request for medical records form letter to help you obtain your personal health record.
Release of Personal Health Records: Rights and Fees
Once received, you have the right to review your personal health record (PHR) and seek changes to information you think is wrong. However, if you want a hard copy of your personal medical records, doctors and hospitals may charge a “reasonable fee” to cover time and cost of materials.
You also have the option to send your personal health record directly to healthcare professionals. If you choose to go this route, most doctors say it is good to let them know ahead of time so they can know when to expect them.
Paperless Medical Records vs. Hard Copies
Proponents of transitioning to paperless medical records say that EMR / EHR systems will decrease the costs of maintaining patient medical records, making it faster and cheaper for doctors to gain access to medical records and thus for patients to submit a medical records request.
For doctors transitioning to paperless medical records, the most successful “were characterized by even more benefits and time savings per patient,” concluded a 2003 report compiled by the University of California on small medical practices that adopted EMR or EHR.
While most patients have no problem gaining access to medical records, there are times when accessing your personal medical records request may be rejected. These situations include any time when your physician or provider believes releasing the information to you could endanger you or someone else, or when special exemptions are provided under law, such as for mental health records, which are exempted from disclosure requirements.