The Complete Guide To Request Your Medical Records

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Last updated:
05/12/2017

The Complete Guide To Request Your Medical Records

Looking to access medical records for yourself or a loved one? Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you or your designated patient advocate have the right to obtain copies of your medical records.

A medical record documents the entire health history, including medications, immunization dates, treatments, and notes from healthcare professionals of an individual. It could also contain information related to the insurance of the individual.

With HIPAA, patients have the right to access medical records, get copies, and correct errors. Keeping copies of your health care records can help patients stay on top of their health.

As there is no centralized location for US health records, patients are ultimately responsible for their own medical records. So how can you get access to your health record and start to take control?

Let’s uncover all of the information you need to know about accessing your health records, both online and offline.

Who Has Your Medical Records?

In general, any healthcare provider you have seen keeps medical records about you and provides access or a copy when requested. There is no federal law specifying how long a doctor needs to keep a patient’s medical history. But instead, every state has its own holding period, which ranges from 7-10 years. If you have changed health care or insurance providers, it’s good to request your medical records.

8 Ways To Access Your Medical Records

Collecting and keeping your medical records is smart & essential. For instance, it allows you to check with your doctor about missing or incorrect test results and update information that may be vital for your care.

Here are the 8 ways you can request or access medical records for yourself or a loved one:

  1. Getting your records directly from a Hospital’s Patient Portal
  2. Via letter or online form
  3. In-person
  4. By phone
  5. Paid Service
  6. Email
  7. Mail
  8. Apps (like Apple’s Healthkit)

Hospital’s Patient Portal

Almost all hospitals offer online medical records through their website. You can request medical records through the online portal and receive the health data directly from the source without hassle. According to HealthIT.gov, portals allow patients to access their health information anywhere with an internet connection, at their convenience.

Records available through patient portals include:

  • Recent doctor visits
  • Lab results
  • Medication lists
  • Allergies
  • Immunizations
  • Discharge summaries

Patients can look at test results directly from the lab. LabCorp, for example, has a patient portal that allows patients to view recent lab results. If you already have a personal account, you can log in and view your medical records anytime. However, there are certain limitations, such as viewing specific sections of your records, printing it, and sharing it with others.

Note: Always ask your healthcare providers before getting into anything new. While healthcare IT security and privacy are well regulated, some risks may be involved when using online services.

A Letter or Online Form

Most hospitals or practices will ask you to fill out a form to acquire medical records. The form can usually be collected at the office or delivered by fax, postal service, or email. If the office doesn’t have a form, you can write a letter to get your medical records. Once the request is completed and sent, there may be a period of up to 30-60 days to be received and processed.

It’s also important to know that patients may have to pay for the cost of their medical records if they want them delivered on paper, by fax, or via electronic media. You can pay via credit or debit card for the same.

In some cases, the health care provider will grant a form that has to be filled in by the patient. While created to protect the patient’s privacy, these regulations also allow legal situations where other individuals or organizations could request a medical record on the patient’s behalf.

For example, a primary care physician or third-party covered entities may have been granted the right to request the record when signing the patient intake or the registration form. These might be medical practitioners or organizations like insurance companies, hospitals, labs, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and billing providers.

Writing a Letter for Requesting Medical Records

In writing a letter to request records, it’s important to be as direct and formal in requesting your records. This helps make your letter easy to read and straightforward in your request. Be sure to include the following information in your letter:

  • Your full name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Address and phone number
  • Email address
  • The list of records being requested
  • The dates of service
  • Delivery option (fax, post, email, in-person)
  • Signature

Note: We recommend always keeping a copy of the original request to document the attempted medical record requests.

In-Person Request

Under HIPAA, you can request copies of your complete medical records from all your healthcare providers. To request the medical records in person, you need to visit your healthcare provider’s office and speak to the administrative staff in charge. Usually, there is a specific medical record request clerk/office function in most hospitals. You need to fill out a form requesting your records most of the time. If there is no such form, you can make a written request, as we’ve seen above.

Bring an appropriate ID

When requesting your medical records in person, you must show a valid government-issued photo ID. If you need another person’s medical records, you need to bring additional legal documents to establish your rights to access someone else’s documents. Do understand these formalities beforehand.

Telephone

Most hospitals and doctors’ offices have specific processes to help patients request via phone. Make a note of all the formalities and documents you need to perform for the same.

Paid Services

According to a 2018 study conducted at the Yale University School of Medicine, patients face significant barriers when requesting their hospital records. Only 50% of the hospitals surveyed had a form that could be used to request the whole record. The rest offered only partial records unless the patient made a phone call and verbal request.

But the way most hospitals manage records requests makes it more complicated than it should be. Rest assured, it needn’t be.

Services like MedicalRecords.com exist to make this process easier for you. There’s a small fee we charge, in addition to the charges you’ll need to pay the healthcare providers. Get in touch with us, and we’ll take care of things from start to finish!

Email

Physicians sometimes receive data about patients over email, but this is the most appropriate way to request records because of HIPAA laws. For the best safety & privacy, we recommend that you visit the hospital website and use the secure online portal instead.

Mail or Fax

When you opt for mail or fax, be sure to send a cover letter or fax cover sheet with your request to confirm the date that the records will be received. Requesting medical records by mail or fax is the least convenient of all options.

Health Apps

Along with the patient portals and other items, there are several other websites and apps that can help you retrieve your medical records from multiple sources and keep them up-to-date.

For example, the Apple Health app can be used to organize and access certain health information via an iPad or iPhone.

You can use the Health Records feature and search to see whether your healthcare provider is a part of it. While it may not be possible to see the entire record or download it, you can access specific data such as lab results, medications, and clinical vitals. Furthermore, you’ll also get a notification when data is updated.

Can a doctor request medical records from another doctor?

Yes. According to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, any healthcare provider who is a covered entity can share a patient’s complete medical record as long as the disclosure is permissible under the conditions covered in the Privacy Rule.

How Long Does It Take To Obtain Your Medical Records?

Under HIPAA, a physician has 30 days to provide the patient or the patient’s legal representative with a copy of the requested medical records. However, if the medical records are not maintained or are not accessible on-site, then a physician has 60 days to provide them.

If you feel your rights to access your health information in a timely fashion have been violated and may merit legal action, you can file a complaint with the US Department of Health & Human Services. Do ensure that you file it within 180 days.

Note: In the event of not getting a response, please call your healthcare provider. However, if they confirm that the request has been received but no action has been taken, see the provider’s “Notice of Privacy Practices.” This will include the contact information for a privacy official who can help you.

How Much Does It Cost To Obtain Medical Records?

While doctors can’t charge any fee for providing your medical records, they can charge a reasonable amount for copying and printing your documents. If you have a long or complicated medical history, the costs can add up.

For instance, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has outlined the prices, $1.70 for Pages 1-20, which a healthcare facility or provider must not exceed in response to a request to produce medical charts or records.

Why You Should Request Your Medical Records

Whether you have either an offline health app or direct online access to your health records, it enables you to keep track of your healthcare. Your medical record keeps you up to date with your current health. There are 3 important benefits of getting your medical records.

Saves You Time

When you have the history of all the tests already performed, your health care provider can avoid performing the same tests again. This will save you time as well as money.

Prepared for Medical Emergencies

During an emergency, your medical records come in handy for a healthcare provider to understand medical histories, medicines, and more to make informed & quick decisions for your health.

Better Health Care Decisions

Knowing all your health information and medication list is empowering and vital. With this, you can make informed decisions about your healthcare. Further, you can cross-check for any errors and get them corrected. This is especially useful while understanding health care bills and health care costs.

Who Can Request Your Medical Records?

HIPAA regulations are designed to protect your privacy, and thus obtaining a medical record could be challenging at times.

According to HIPAA, you can request your medical records if:

  • You are the patient
  • You are the patient’s parent or guardian
  • You are a caregiver with written permission from the patient

In addition, there are other groups who can access your medical records under specific conditions:

  • Employers
  • Life insurers
  • Some school districts
  • Government agencies, to establish eligibility for specific programs
    • Including Medicare and the Social Security Administration
  • Legal order
    • Your electronic patient records can be released if ordered by law
    • Including courts, health agencies, and law enforcement agencies with a valid subpoena
    • In most states, certain records must be submitted to the proper authorities, including:
      • Records for gunshot wounds, treatment related to sexual attacks, and cases where domestic violence is suspected
  • Your healthcare providers may also release medical records without your written authorization in the following circumstances, among others.
    • To insurance companies for purposes of processing health insurance company coverage
    • To professional medical societies and research organizations who are reviewing health care providers or doing medical research
    • To employers, if they are evaluating workers’ compensation claims

Can You Request Records For Someone Else?

Yes, it is possible to request medical records for someone else. However, this comes with its own requirements. As a requestor, you must fill out the correct authorization form and have the proper legal documents to show to the medical records department.

What To Do If Your Medical Record Request Is Denied?

If your healthcare provider denies your medical records request, they have to document the denial and its reason. You have the right to review and appeal that denial. For instance, certain medical information, such as HIV/STD records, cannot be divulged at once and may require additional authorization on top of your request.

During such an appeal to your original request, a healthcare professional who is not involved in the initial denial decision will review it and determine whether or not to grant you access to the medical records.

FAQ

What Types Of Records Are Not Able To Be Accessed By The Patient?

There is some information on medical records that aren’t divulged to patients. These include:

  • Psychotherapy notes or mental health records
  • Anything that could endanger the physical safety of the patient or others
  • Information compiled for use in a lawsuit
  • Details of a research project while it is still in progress
  • Data that would reveal the identity of a source that was promised confidentiality

What To Do If You Have Trouble Obtaining Your Medical Records?

Most healthcare providers are aware of the federal law HIPAA. But still, if you encounter any issue with healthcare administrators, refer them to this federal document, which may help. It contains articles and videos that could help you.

Alternatively, you can always get in touch with us to order medical records. We’re here to help you!

How To Fix Mistakes On Your Medical Records?

If there are any mistakes on your records, do write a letter to the healthcare administrator outlining those errors and corrections. Mention your name, date, social security number, and other vital information, and staple a copy of the page containing a mistake. The provider must respond and act on your request within 60 days.

How Do I Get Old Medical Records From A Retired Doctor?

Under the law, doctors must transfer their records to another provider when retiring and no longer practicing. You can get in touch with your doctor, who can point you in the right direction.

Can A Minor Request Their Own Medical Records?

Typically a minor receives no extra incentive according to HIPAA to control the visibility of their medical records.

According to HIPAA, parents or guardians are regarded as Personal Representatives of children under 18. A personal representative is legally authorized to make decisions on an individual’s behalf or act for a deceased individual. Barring exceptions, which could include neglect or abuse, parents can exercise HIPAA rights on behalf of their minor children and access medical records.

Can I Request My Medical Records Be Destroyed?

According to HIPAA, medical records should be maintained for either 6 years from their creation or 6 years from the last use. Most US states have their own data retention laws. Therefore, if a state’s law specifies a shorter retention period than HIPAA, then HIPAA regulation prevails. Otherwise, the healthcare providers must oblige to the state laws and destroy the records.

Can Service Members Request A Copy Of Their Medical Records?

Various military and government agencies hold veteran & military records, and each comes with its own additional policies. Thus, accessing military medical records may seem tricky since they are treated differently, be it for inpatient or outpatient treatments. So, you need to check in at least two places for complete military medical records history.

National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) or the NPRC needs the name of the hospital, month (if known), year of treatment, and the veteran’s name and Social Security or service number to locate these clinical records.