How does one gather their scattered medical records?

Dear Alice,

Is there a service I can employ? I know for a fact that I've never used health insurance to cover anything. I also know that I've been to different hospitals for different issues. Any help is appreciated.

Dear Reader, 

Unfortunately, there isn’t one service that can compile all of your medical records for you. Compiling your medical records involves submitting a record request to each facility from which you have received medical care. Facilities are required to keep patient records of adults, in accordance with state law, for a period of time that can range from five to eleven years, depending whether the facility is a hospital or a medical doctor’s office. As such, you may want to check in with your state to get a sense of the time frame associated with where you sought care. A major law that facilitates the ability to get your medical records is HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. More specifically, the law gives patients the right to access, have copies of, and ask for amendments to these medical records. It also sets standards for the privacy and protection of your health information. Keep reading for more on culling your medical records. 

To obtain a medical record, you'll want to get in touch with the Health Information Management (HIM), Medical Records, or Health Information Services Department at the facility from which you received care and ask for details about their record request process, including fees. At smaller medical practices, you may need to ask for the staff member who handles patient records. Providers often maintain health records on a facility-by-facility basis, so record requests likely have to be made individually to each location you have gone to for care. To verify your request, you will most likely be required to sign an authorization form or use a secure web portal and may need to confirm your identity. The time it takes to get your records will vary by facility, but HIPAA sets a maximum of 30 days, with the possibility of a 30-day extension in some circumstances. You may be charged a fee (that covers the copying and mailing the records if necessary), but a facility may not deny you access to your medical records based on not yet having paid for services rendered. 

Once you have received your records, you may want to think about a few next steps: reviewing them and securely storing them. Taking a gander at your medical records, once you have received them, may be wise; if you notice any potential errors, HIPAA allows for patients to submit requests for amendments to their medical or billing records. Health care providers or plans must respond to these requests and make changes as needed. If they deny the request for an amendment, a patient is within their rights under HIPAA to submit a statement of disagreement that must be added to their records. After you’ve had a chance to review, you may decide to store your information in a file folder, USB drive, or employ a Web-based service that allows you to input and access your records online. To keep your records secure, you could store hard copies in a safe place and password-protect electronic copies of your record to protect your health information.  

Having a copy of your medical records can be extremely beneficial. Not only can having comprehensive records help new health care providers better coordinate and efficiently manage your care, but you can also make you a more informed and active contributor in your own care. Access to your medical records can help you monitor your treatment, ask informed questions about your care, and potentially avoid unnecessary procedures, such as repeat tests. 

Good luck! 

Last updated Dec 31, 2021
Originally published Aug 30, 2013

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