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Why Is It So Hard To Get My Medical Records?

A lot of patients have questions about their medical care after treatment (and after they get their bill). However, patients often find it hard to get a copy of their medical records after care.  A medical office may say they don’t have the records on-site or refer the patient to a 3rd party record-keeping company. Your medical records are for you. If you think the doctor’s office is trying to restrict your access to your medical records to cover up for a medical error, talk to your lawyer for help.=

Common Delays and Stall Tactics to Restrict Record Access

Why is it so hard for a patient to get a copy of their own medical records? There are a lot of reasons why it can be so tough to get your own medical records. Unfortunately, some of those reasons are manufactured by the healthcare industry and insurance companies. Doctors and hospitals have to provide access to your records but there is no requirement that the access should be simple or easy. 

At the national level, medical records are covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA laws are intended to protect patient privacy, as well as give individuals access to their own personal health information. After a patient makes a formal request in writing, the healthcare provider has up to 30 days to provide a copy of the individual’s health information. 

In practice, what often happens is a patient calls the doctor’s office and asks for a copy of their records. The administrator may ask a lot of questions or stall the patient or say that they don’t keep the records and the patient has to get them from a 3rd party. Many patients just give up at this point because it seems like the doctor’s office is making it difficult to get a copy, which is probably true. A study found that there were major differences between hospital policies detailed in patient authorization forms and what administrators told patients on the phone. 

The most common reasons why a patient asks for a copy of their medical records is because: 

  1. They have questions about the billing costs and insurance coverage; and
  2. They suspect something went wrong and they want to look for a medical mistake or error. 

Based on these reasons, it is no surprise that the insurance company and healthcare industry have an interest in restricting access. If the doctor is billing for unperformed procedures, giving the patient access to the records could implicate them in insurance fraud, healthcare fraud, or Medicare fraud. If the doctor makes an error which caused an injury or complication, the records could show evidence of medical malpractice. 

It Should Not Be This Hard to Get to See Your Own Records

An opinion article for National Public Radio (NPR) agrees that “It’s Your Right To See Your Medical Records. It Shouldn’t Be This Hard To Do.” The writer, a doctor himself, recounts the situation of a friend trying to get medical records, waiting for more than 2 months without access because the hospital had contracted with a 3rd party that only communicated with patients by snail mail.

Federal guidelines also limit the cost of access to medical records. However, hospitals and medical records keepers often charge much more for access, claiming the costs will amount to $500 or more. Records are also to be available in the format requested by the patient, either electronically or in paper. However, in many cases, the hospitals do not offer the format requested or claim they are only available in one form or the other, which is generally not true. 

Access to Medical Records for Malpractice Lawsuit

If the healthcare administrator holding your records has still not provided you with your records, you and your attorney have one course of action that can guarantee a release. Medical records can be subpoenaed through the courts. A subpoena is a court order to release the records. 

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice or hospital negligence, the process can be frustrating. Contact the legal professionals at Gilman & Bedigian today. To discuss your malpractice injury with a member of our legal team, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (800) 529-6162 today. 

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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