Need copies of your health records? Know your rights

January 22, 2015 in Personalized Healthcare  •  By Miles Varn
Medical records and patients rights

If you’re moving to another state or simply want to change doctors, receiving the best care from your new provider depends in part on whether he or she has a complete record of your medical history. To make sure your new physician has this information, you first need to obtain copies of the medical records stored by each hospital or practice where you were previously treated. The data in these records should include all diagnoses, laboratory test results, prescriptions, surgical records and treatment plans, which will guide any future care you receive and ensure you don’t go through any repeat or unnecessary procedures.

However, as one article from The New York Times illustrated, obtaining your full medical records from different providers can be more difficult than it should.

Sharing should be easier

Glenn Cohen of Harvard Law School told The New York Times that providers may choose to withhold records out of fear that you will leave their practice, but if you know and exercise your rights, this doesn’t have to be a problem.

The New York Times article highlighted the case of one back surgery patient who planned to travel and wanted a copy of his medical records in case he needed immediate access to information about his condition and recovery. However, the process to obtain this copy of his records was lengthy. Over the course of six weeks, the patient needed to make numerous phone calls, sign various consent forms, send different requests through postal mail and pay $100 in fees.

Providers may claim that they can’t release medical records to patients out of fear that they’d be violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. However, the reluctance of hospitals and practices to release patients’ medical records may actually be motivated by unfounded fears of patients leaving the practice.

To provide patients with better access to their medical records, the federal government has enacted policies to make the sharing of records easier. Hospitals and practices across the U.S. are required to transition their record systems to electronic platforms. Additionally, they must demonstrate that they are using these platforms to allow patients electronic access to their medical information, including lab tests.

What are your rights?

If you need copies of your medical records, the first thing to do is see if the provider is a participant in the Blue Button program. This initiative started with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but is expanding to include other medical outlets. It allows patients to gain electronic access to their health information.

If your provider isn’t a participant in Blue Button, you need to make a formal request to each provider for copies of your records. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests sharing a letter that outlines your rights as a patient or patient representative. These include:

  • The right to view and obtain copies of your medical records from practices, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes or other providers
  • The right to have paper copies or, if possible, electronic copies
  • The right to have your provider share or send a copy of your medical records to someone else

Additionally, it’s important to remember that providers have the right to charge fees for the supplies and labor of copying and sharing records. However, these fees, which must be reasonable, can’t cover the search and retrieval of records.

To facilitate more timely medical decisions and treatment, it may help to maintain a curated medical record that incorporates all of your medical records from multiple providers. Your personal health advisor can work with you to collect, aggregate, and review these records to ensure that your medical history is complete and readily accessible when needed.