All Americans are entitled to their medical records upon request. The federal guidelines that ensure this access are part of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Federal And State Guidelines
According to HIPAA, you have a right to request and receive copies of your medical records. Health care providers (whether dentists, doctors, podiatrists, hospitals or other providers), and health insurers must cooperate with you in making necessary corrections to your records. Additionally, HIPAA requires that your providers and insurers inform you about how your health information may be used (and how it has been used in the past).
You can read more about your state's individual regulations at the website of the Georgetown University Center on Medical Record Rights and Privacy.
How To Request Your Records
First, contact your health care provider. They may have a form for you to use, or they may ask you to submit a written request, whether by letter, fax or email. The information they may need from you may include the following:
- Your name and contact information, including your address and phone number
- Your date of birth
- The dates of service
- Be sure to tell them if you would like to have your whole record or just a part of it, and whether you would like to see your record or just have a copy
Your provider may ask that you pay a fee for accessing the record and copying it. In most states, this is legal. Your individual state guidelines may stipulate the types of fees that your provider may require.
What To Do If You Do Not Receive A Response
If you do not hear back from your doctor or insurer within a reasonable timeframe, you should send them a certified letter repeating your request. If you still do not hear from them, you should file a complaint with your state medical board. You can also file a complaint with Health and Human Services.
If your doctor is no longer in practice and you cannot find him or her, you should get in touch with your state medical board. They will probably have a record of your doctor's address and contact information. In most states, providers must keep an adult patient's records for at least six years, and children's medical records must be saved for at least three to 10 years after their eighteenth or twenty-first birthday.
What Should You Do With Your Records Once You Have Them?
You may have a specific need for your records, or just simply want to keep close tabs on your health. In any case, it is prudent to keep a personal health record. In contrast to electronic medical records, which are maintained and stored by individual health care providers, your personal health record is maintained, updated and owned by you. It allows you to keep all your health information in one place. This information can help you manage your health better, and it may be invaluable in the case of an emergency.
Your personal health record may consist of a paper file of all your records, as well as your doctors' contact information, lists of any medications, chronic health conditions or allergies, and a living will, if you have one. You may also choose to start an electronic personal health record. The advantage of a web-based electronic system is that you can access it through the web no matter where you are. A variety of companies offer web-based personal health record products.
Reviewing and managing your medical records helps you to exercise your rights and responsibilities as an integral player in your own health care.