Your medical records are essential. They contain sensitive information about past procedures, treatments, conditions, and basically everything you need to inform future healthcare workers about your well-being. And you’re entitled to know what’s in your medical records.
For these reasons, there are going to be times when you’ll want to access these files; whether it's for yourself or on behalf of a loved one. In this post, we’ll discuss your right to access medical records, how you can obtain them, and even how to access medical records for minors. Once you have accessed your patient record, it is also important to have proper medical records storage.
Do I Have Access to My Own Medical Records?
Yes. According to HIPAA regulations, most people have the right to access medical records if they are trying to acquire their own patient record.
HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is a federal law that creates national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the HIPAA Privacy Rule gives you the right to inspect, review, and receive a copy of your medical and billing records that are held by health plans and health care providers.
You have rights when it comes to your medical records. However, every state has their own laws concerning medical records, so it’s important to understand the differences between state and federal law, especially if there are situations where they might conflict.
Here’s a complete listing of medical record laws by state.
How Can I See My Medical Records?
It is important to know what should be included in a medical record so that you know if something is missing when you have accessed your own health information. Patients who wish to receive copies of their medical records can generally do so in one of two ways:
- Electronic patient portal – Most modern health care providers have switched over to electronic record documentation which can easily be made accessible to their patients. Ask your doctor if your records will be hosted online and how you can view them. This is typically done through an online patient portal where the users can log in and download records at their discretion.
- Request copies – A surprising number of doctors and clinics still operate with paper files and medical records. If your doctor hasn’t switched over to digital documents or the files only exist in physical form, you can still obtain copies by making a formal request for your health record. Simply call the office and ask for them to be mailed or set aside for you to pick up. To make it official, some doctors may require you to put your request in writing.
Remember that if you are not the patient and are acting on behalf of someone else (such as an elderly family member), then as part of HIPAA regulations and to ensure protected health information, the health care provider will need a written request from the patient before releasing these records into your custody.
How to Get Your Records if the Doctor is No Longer in Practice?
Your doctor or hospital, or other covered entity, is still legally liable for preserving your medical records per state laws — even if they’re retired, sold their practice, or are just no longer active. This is why it is important to know how long doctors have to keep your medical record.
If the practice was sold, then the new doctor will generally assume responsibility for the care of patients’ medical records. In this case, requesting your health record should be as simple as calling up the office.
If you’re wondering how to get your medical records, there are a variety of solutions. If the practice was closed for good, then the responsible physician or healthcare provider will most likely have made arrangements to have all of the medical documentation archived with a commercial storage firm. If there was no forwarding contact information left behind, then you may have to reach out to the local medical board to track down their whereabouts.
When Will You Be Denied Your Medical Records?
There are some instances where a doctor can refuse to release medical records. Two common examples include:
- Psychotherapy notes that were taken by your doctor and may be interpreted as “impressions” rather than an actual diagnosis.
- Information that has been compiled for use in a lawsuit
Do HIPAA Laws Apply to Minors?
Generally, until a child reaches the age of majority (18), HIPAA rules consider parents and guardians to be the personal representatives of the minor child. As such, medical professionals can freely share most medical information with these adults.
However, there are some instances where a minor can be considered an “individual” under the HIPAA regulations, and then the parent is not able to serve as their personal representative or make a record request for their child's health information. These include:
- Times when minor consents to a particular health care service (such as treatment for pregnancy or an STD) and state law does not require them to appoint the parent as their personal representative.
- When the law appoints someone other than the parent to give consent to the provision of a particular health service (such as a court order for the minor to enter a drug habilitation program).
- When the parent agrees to a confidential relationship between the minor and a health care provider with respect to the health care service (such as treatment for mental health).
Do Minors Ever Get Patient Confidentiality?
The state laws related to HIPAA can vary from location to location and these can affect what information can be discussed with parents. In general, common topics that most pediatricians can keep confidential include:
- Sexual activity
- Drug and alcohol use
- Certain mental health issues
Discussing these sensitive issues with parents can break the trust between the minor and the doctor, which may then sabotage any future efforts to continue treatment. That’s why it's usually not required that a doctor, medical provider, or health professional, divulge this type of information.
What You Should Do with Your Medical Records
Your medical records are not just important, they are personal. If you’d like to exercise your patient rights to medical records or are simply concerned that they may become lost or disposed of, you can actively collect and back up your documents.
Again, this may be as simple as logging on to your doctor’s patient portal and downloading each of the files. Once this is done one time, it would just be a matter of repeating the process once every 6 to 12 months as activity updates.
If you’ve switched doctors or procedures performed that were outside your normal health care provider’s jurisdiction, then you may have a bit more of a challenge gathering these files. This may involve contacting each provider separately and rounding up each of the files.
How to Safely Store Your Medical Records
Once in hand, you’ll want to find a reliable storage solution for your medical records that is both secure and easy for you to access. This can typically be accomplished through a cloud-based storage device or the use of an app like Pillar.
Pillar is designed to let you organize, archive, and store your important files and medical records in an encrypted format so that only you and the people you trust can have access to your most sensitive medical information. It doesn’t have to be difficult to know how to organize medical records.
Take ownership of your most important medical records with the safe, easy to use cloud storage platform thats built for every stage of your life. Try Pillar for free for 14 days.