Although states and medical providers vary on the procedure you need to follow in requesting medical records, it's usually safest to do the following:
- Contact the medical provider and find out where the request should be sent. Some providers use third-party services to maintain and copy patients' medical records. Other providers have specific offices or personnel dedicated to medical record requests. The process will be quicker if you send your request to the right location right off the bat.
- Make the request in writing.
- Include your name, address, telephone number, email address, date of birth, and medical record number, if you know it (this is not the same as your invoice number). Some providers will request your social security number.
- Fill out a release form. This step is required by most medical providers. Ask the provider to send the form to you, or see if it's available online. You can also offer to stop by the office to pick up a copy of the form.
- Specify whether you want to view the originals, get copies, or both.
Specify Which Records You Want
When it comes to identifying which medical records you want, you can be general or specific. Sometimes, patients want their entire medical file. But if youâve seen the doctor over a long period of time and don't want to pay for copies of every immunization and preventative visit for the last 20 years, it might make sense to specify which part of the record you want.
You can narrow your request by specifying records that cover treatment over a certain time period or for a certain medical condition. You can also specify whether you want MRI films and reports, X-ray films and reports, prescriptions, lab tests and evaluations, billing records and receipts, pathology reports, admitting records, emergency room records, anesthesiologist records, treatment notes, vaccination records, and anything else you think you may need.
Request Records From Third-Party Providers
Once you get your medical records, you may notice they include reports from third-party providers, like specialists or radiologists. The documents from the third-party provider are what your doctor received, but they may not constitute all the medical records that the third-party provider's office has on you. If you need more information from the third-party provider, make a separate medical record request to that provider.
Pay for the Records
HIPAA allows providers to charge for "reasonable costs" in copying your medical records. State laws often put limits on these charges, although many providers charge less than the limit (or nothing at all in some cases). Ask the medical provider how much the charges will be.
Many medical providers require payment before turning over the records. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be required to pay any outstanding medical bills before you can get copies of your records.
What to Do if You Are Denied Records or the Records Are Not Complete
Sometimes, something appears to be missing from your medical records. Most often, this is due to a mistake or honest oversight, and getting the right information merely requires a follow-up written inquiry.
But some health care advocates claim that certain hospitals and medical providers make it difficult for patients to get medical records when a medical malpractice lawsuit is involved. If you believe that a hospital or other provider has failed to turn over medical information that may be key to a malpractice claim, you have several courses of action to consider:
- Contact the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Human and Health Services at 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201, (866) 627-7748. Visit them online at www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/.
- File a complaint with your state's medical board. But if you plan to file a lawsuit, remember to be conscious of the time this might take and how that could affect your case. One study found that medical boards took, on average, 2.6 years to investigate complaints.
- Contact a personal injury lawyer.
If a provider refuses to give you with a copy of your medical records -- and if the provider doesnât give you an explanation or if you don't agree with the decision to withhold records -- you can also pursue the options listed above to challenge the denial of your request.
Once you have your medical records, you may be ready to visit a personal injury attorney. For help on choosing a good personal injury attorney, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. You can go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to learn about a particular lawyer's experience, if any, with your particular legal issue).
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