How to Access Your Medical Records

Modified on 2009/10/14 21:43 by admin
Your personal health information is held within your medical records. This includes any information about your health status (in the past and currently), provision of health care, or payment for health care that can be linked to you. Accessing your medical records can be a confusing and time-consuming process. The following guide will list your individual rights to privacy and who can access your records other than yourself. If a loved one is in need of their records, yet unable to authorize the transaction for whatever reason, it’s imperative you know exactly what to do. 

The Importance of HIPAA


The first step is learning how your records are protected. In 1996, the U.S. Federal government proposed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and it went into effect on April 14th, 2003. Before this historic Act, the health care system in the United States was fractured and difficult to monitor. HIPAA standardized regulations on “covered health service entities” as well as issuing national standards regarding the release of protected medical information, the use of electronic interchange of medical records and data, and health care coverage for those who are in between jobs. HIPAA was passed primarily to safeguard highly personal information found in medical records by protecting your individual rights and giving you more control over the contents of your medical records.

getting your medical records

getting your medical records

Source -iStockphoto 

“Covered entities” are medical organizations such as health care providers, medical clearinghouses and most hospitals, pharmacies, and even government administrative agencies such as Medicare and Medicaid that are subject to the rules and regulations of HIPPA. It may be a good idea if you’re in a medically related field to find out if your business is subject to HIPAA regulations.

Recently, however, there is a growing concern in the health care industry regarding third party information technology companies pooling medical record information for insurance companies. These companies are tentatively called Electronic Health Record (EHR) companies and make revenue by collecting pharmaceutical prescription information and organizing it as medical “credit reports” for health providers to purchase. Insurance companies then buy an individuals’ medical history from these companies to determine whether a selected person is a risk for a health care provider. EHR's are not covered by HIPAA regulations, making this topic a highly debated issue in the legal, medical, and technological arenas.

Who Can Access my Medical Records?

The following persons and or groups have full or limited access to your medical records. But in the end, only you have full rights over your medical records.

Friends and Family – Guardians for minors and dependents have the legal right to access their records. Another way that someone other than yourself can access your records occurs when a court ordered friend or family member acts on your behalf, invoking the right to a Health Care Power of Attorney. This individual will act as your representative in all your medical care matters and will have the same amount of access to your medical records as you. This being said, each state has different laws regarding what circumstances and which family member can access your medical records. HIPAA sets the standard security base for medical records, if a state wishes to add more security into law, they have that right.

Insurance Companies – Before issuing you a policy, an insurance company has the right to access your medical information. 

Government Agencies – Administrative agencies related to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability, and Workers Compensation may need to access your information after filing a claim. 

Employers – Certain jobs require a level of activity that persons with disabilities can not complete. An employer can access your medical records as part of a background check, but there are limitations. The employer can only ask for your records after being hired and even if you are fired based on your medical records, the employer must be able to prove that it is physically or mentally impossible for you to do the work that other employees holding similar jobs are able to do.  

Court Order – Your medical records can be subpoenaed by court order if they are relevant to the case. Even then, only information related to the case can be released, not the entire file. 

Health Research and Evaluations – Your records can be shared by health professionals for research reasons and/or disease control (such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Also, when a doctor or hospital undergoes an evaluation for license, your records may be looked over and your name may or may not be released, depending on the severity of the issue. 

How Do I Access My Medical Records?

It’s as easy as asking your current doctor or hospital you were admitted to last. You may ask to simply see them, ask for a copy, or have someone explain their contents, depending on why you need the records in the first place. A general rule of thumb is to request your medical records in writing, addressed to the doctor’s office or hospital you have been to. 

Covered entities may charge you a fee for such service, but it must be “reasonable” and only cover the administrative costs of your request, i.e. copying fees. From the day of your request, you must be given your medical records within 30 days. The covered entity can extend this limit to another 30 days if they give you a valid reason for the delay.

Your Request Can Be Turned Down…

There are multiple reasons why a request for your medical records can be turned down by a covered entity. A doctor or other covered entity can decide to withhold certain information found in your records if it could endanger your health or someone else’s. If this is the case, the doctor must still provide you with safe information for you to view.

Another reason for not receiving your medical records could be when the request is frivolous or vexatious. Repeatedly asking for your medical records is one example or requesting them simply for amusements sake is another sure way to block your access.

If you are currently involved in a legal issue with your health service provider, they may wish to withhold your medical records until the end of the dispute. They do not want to release privy information during the discovery stage of litigation in case it prejudices the relationship with the client.

Page 2: Know Your Rights and Beware...
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