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Exercise Your Rights: A Complete Guide on How to Obtain Your Medical Records

Do you need to access copies of your medical records? Are you having a hard time getting them from the hospital or doctor’s office? 

If so, you’re not alone.

Research shows that a number of American hospitals make it difficult for patients to get copies of their records. 

If you’re having trouble gaining access to your medical records, keep reading.

Explained below is everything you need to know about how to obtain your medical records. 

Why Obtain Copies of Your Medical Records?

There are many reasons why someone might need to obtain a copy of their medical records. Some common reasons include:

  • Get a complete understanding of your health history (this includes the results of specific blood tests and other examinations)
  • Identify errors that could lead to a misdiagnosis
  • Create a more comprehensive care plan for yourself
  • Learn more about the medications you’ve been prescribed
  • Provide proof of injuries or illnesses associated with an accident in which you were involved

Whether your intentions are health-focused or legal-focused, there a number of situations for which you might need copies of your medical records.

Are You Allowed to See Your Medical Records?

Some people are hesitant to ask for their medical records because they’re not sure if they’re allowed to see them.

Some hospitals may also be hesitant to release medical records because they’re worried about data breaches or leaking confidential information to the wrong person.

At the end of the day, though, it’s important to note that you, as a patient, absolutely have a right to look at your medical records. Caregivers and advocates are also allowed to see medical records.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (also known as HIPAA), you have a right to see and obtain copies of your medical records at any time.

You also have a right to dispute anything shown on those records that seems incorrect or seems that it’s been omitted.

How to Obtain Your Medical Records

Okay, you know that you have a right to obtain copies of your medical records. How do you go about doing this, though? How do you ensure you get what you need when you need it?

Follow these guidelines to make sure you get the copies you need from your doctor’s office or hospital: 

Use the Right Communication Channels

The first step you need to take is to make sure you’re attempting to access your records through the proper channels.

Your healthcare provider likely has an online patient portal that allows you to gain access to some of your information.

If the information you need isn’t available, call your healthcare provider’s office and ask the receptionist how to access your records.

They will likely transfer you to a medical records analyst (check this article to learn what they do) or someone who else handles records.

Be Clear with Your Request

Remember to be clear about which medical records you need. Records can be hundreds of pages in length, so specify whether you need copies of all your records or just from a specific time period or appointment. The clearer you are, the easier it will be to get what you need.

Specify the Format You Want

When you’re asking for copies of your records, be sure to specify the format in which you’d like them delivered. By law, your healthcare provider has to give you a choice between paper and electronic copies.

Sometimes, though, your records might not be available in an electronic format. In this case, someone from the hospital or doctor’s office will need to scan them. If this is the case, it may take longer for you to get the copies you need.

If you need information right away, you may need to just want to go ahead and accept the paper copies, even if they’re less convenient than electronic copies.

Challenge Excessive Costs

Keep in mind that copies of your medical records might not be free.

Providers can charge you for the labor involved in pulling them up, the cost of the paper to print them, and the postage involved to mail them to you.

If they charge you anything more than $6.50, which is the federal recommendation, you can challenge that cost and try to negotiate it down.

Ask for a Timeline

Legally, your healthcare provider can take up to 30 days to provide you with your records. If it is going to take longer than this, they need to give you a new delivery date and explain to you why they can’t deliver them within thirty days. Be sure to ask for a timeline and make sure it aligns with these rules.

Follow Up

Once you’ve requested copies of your records, follow up every few days to make sure they’ve received your request.

If you don’t receive your records within the date specified, reach out and ask why they are delayed. 

Be polite when you do this, of course, but be firm and make it clear that you expect copies of your records and need to know when you’ll receive them.

Escalate if Necessary

If you’re having a hard time getting copies of your medical records, call your healthcare provider and ask to speak to their HIPAA privacy officer.

If you’re still experiencing delays with no explanation — or if you’re receiving an unsatisfactory explanation — you can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, too.

After You’ve Obtained Your Medical Records

The idea of asking for copies of your medical records might seem intimidating or difficult at first. While some hospitals do, in fact, make it challenging for patients to gain access to their records, it’s not impossible.

Now that you know how to obtain your medical records, it’s time to follow these steps and get your hands on them once and for all. 

Are you seeking medical records because you were involved in a car accident? Do you need help handling other aspects of your case? If so, check out some of our other articles today.

This one on what to do after being involved in a fatal car accident contains some very helpful information.

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