How Do I Get My Medical Records?

December 11, 2020

If you’re the type of person who likes to stay organized and ensure you have hard copies of all important documents, obtaining your medical records is a critical step. Still, this can be easier said than done. While medical records are inherently yours, it can still feel like they’re under lock and key, and figuring out how to access them can be tricky.

In this post, we’ll help you learn how to obtain medical records, why you might want to, and how to keep them secure with online medical records storage once you’ve requested a copy.

Let’s get started.

Why Might I Need My Medical Records?

There are many reasons to have a copy of your medical records. In addition to the fact that it’s just smart to have hard copies of all personal documents, having medical records on hand does the following things:

  • Enables you to provide a complete picture of care for a new doctor or healthcare provider
  • Makes it easier to diagnose injury or illness
  • Ensures your healthcare providers always have comprehensive records for you
  • Allows you to keep track of your health journey
  • And more

While you can request your medical records at any time, most people choose to do so before seeing a new healthcare provider or when they’re getting the family’s documents in order. Keep in mind that there is generally a time limit on how long doctors have to keep medical records. With this in mind, the best way to ensure access to your records is to request them promptly. 

4 Easy Steps for How to Get Medical Records

Your health record contains essential documents. It’s important to know what should be included in a medical record. Fortunately, making a medical record request is generally straightforward. Just follow these three steps:

1. Contact your provider

The first step is to reach out directly to your healthcare provider. If you see a doctor in a large hospital or care practice, you may have to reach out to the provider’s medical records department. If you see a care provider at a smaller facility, you may be able to speak directly to a secretary or administrative assistant. 

Whoever you speak with will likely ask you to provide some personal information to verify your identity, such as your birth date and the last four digits of your social security number. Or, sometimes to complete the medical record request you might need to fill out an authorization form.

2. Complete a request form

In most cases, the next step is to complete a medical records request form, either in-person or online. In some cases, this step is only required if you’re requesting that the records be mailed or gathering your documents from a hospital. 

3. Choose the records you want

What most people don’t know is that medical records don’t always come in a big clump. Instead, you may have to request specific documents from certain departments. For example, you may need to speak to one team to get your surgical records and another team to get specialists’ reports. 

Pro tip: If you’ve had surgeries to place implants, such as a replacement knee or hip, request the records for those surgeries. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the surgical notes have information about the implant’s brand and model, which is vital for future recall and legal reasons. 

4. Organize your medical records

There isn’t much use in acquiring your patient health record if you don’t know how to organize medical records. It doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you are using an easy and secure online tool like Pillar.

State-by-State Access Laws

While all states make medical records available to individuals, some states have strict laws governing how and when a person can access their medical records. To learn more about your state’s specific laws, consult this guide

Keep in mind that states only make medical records available to patients. Under HIPAA guidelines, only you or your designated personal representative may access your records. In some cases, a provider or health plan can forward your medical records to another provider to help determine treatment, but you must first grant your permission. 

Can Doctors Refuse to Release Medical Records?

In short, the answer is “no.” Unless access is limited by law for some reason (more on this in a moment), patients are legally entitled to access their medical records. Instead, physicians are prohibited from refusing to provide the document directly to the patient. They cannot simply opt to forward to another provider without offering the patient access, as well. The information doctors are required to provide access to includes:

  • Medical and billing records maintained by a health care provider
  • Payment, enrollment, claims adjudication, or medical and case management record systems 
  • Other records used to make a decision about a patient and/or records that have not yet been used to make a decision but could be used

That said, there are certain legal limitations built into your ability to access medical records. This information is not included in the Right of Access code of HIPAA and includes the following:

  • Psychotherapy notes, which are considered by law to be the personal notes of a health care provider and are thus maintained separately from the patient’s medical records
  • Information compiled in anticipation of or to be used in a criminal, civil, or administrative action or proceeding

If you’re still asking yourself, “what is my right to access medical records?” Pillar has answers to all your questions and can help you figure it out.

How To Get Medical Records Online?

Some hospitals and care providers offer online access to medical records, but some do not. To figure out whether you can get your medical records online, check with your provider or physician. If the practice allows online access to medical records, it will generally be via a patient portal or other electronic gateway.

Keeping Your Records Safe Once You Get Them

Now that you’ve obtained your medical records, how do you keep them safe? We recommend using Pillar Life to organize your family’s vital records and personal information. A safe, secure digital vault, Pillar makes it easy to store, secure, and share essential information. Ready to learn more? Try Pillar for free now.

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