Why should you request your records?
Even if you have absolutely no complaints about your health care, reading your own medical records is an essential first step to becoming an informed, proactive patient. It accomplishes a bunch of things all at once.
You become literate in your own body.
You learn the lingo your doctors use and you remind yourself of the concerns your doctors have about you that you might rather not think about.
You learn a lot about your doctor.
Does he or she have an organized set of records? Do they record what you told them in your sessions with reasonable accuracy and completeness? If the answers are no, you might want to think about getting another doctor.
You can correct errors.
Do your records say something about you that’s just plain wrong? Or do they leave out something important, like an allergy to a common drug such as penicillin? Now is your chance to fix things before they have bad consequences.
You can prevent potentially huge failures in communication.
People find abnormal test results in their own records with distressing frequency — but usually they don’t look until it’s too late. There are so many test results getting filed into medical records and so many opportunities for miscommunication that you can never assume no news is good news when the doctor’s office has failed to tell you about a test result.
You should especially get a copy of every lab report, X-ray study and specialist’s report. The easiest way is to start asking for these routinely, up front, when you’re about to have the test done. But if you’ve got any kind of complex medical history, go ahead and ask your primary doctor’s office for a copy of your entire chart.
Obtaining Your Medical Records
How do you do it?
Just ask. Put it in writing. You have a legal right to your records in all 50 states. Remember, it’s your body, and you can save a life, maybe your own, by reading your own records.
A federal law called the HIPAA Privacy Rule gives you the right to see, get a copy of, and amend (correct) your medical record by adding information to it. (HIPAA stands for the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.”)
Here is more important information about your legal rights under both federal and state law to a copy of your medical records, at a reasonable price.
Your rights under state law vary state by state, but patients nearly always have a right to see health-related information about them. Here is a somewhat dated compilation of state laws done by a group at Georgetown University Law School, last updated in 2001 and 2002.
While we cannot guarantee the information is up-to-date, it should help you get started on getting information about your own state.
Note: If you are acting on behalf of a deceased patient, you have to show that you have been appointed the official “administrator” or “personal representative” of the patient’s estate. That requires a trip to your local courthouse or Register of Wills office to obtain this appointment and to receive a certificate that you can show to the medical records people.
Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney
If you believe you or a family member has been seriously injured from medical malpractice, medical error, or neglect by a doctor, hospital, nurse, clinic, nursing home or other health care provider, you may want to click here to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney for a free evaluation of your case. You can also email us at email@example.com or call us at 202-742-1500 or 888-625-6635 toll-free. We will respond within 24 hours. There is no charge for our initial consultation.