Obtaining medical records can be necessary for a variety of reasons. Continued care and evaluation of a patient's medical condition in the future is a key reason, but often obtaining medical records is the first step in a malpractice lawsuit or insurance claim. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has worked to streamline the rules and regulations to guarantee medical record accessibility and confidentiality for the next generation. Obtaining medical records is not a difficult process, but one that is best undertaken before they are needed.

Who can request medical records?

obtaining medical recordsThe patients themselves are the most likely ones to request a copy of their care record. For those who are minors, it is up to the parent or legal guardian to request a copy. Some older or otherwise incapacitated people should have a legal Power of Attorney in place not just for business decisions but also authorized to receive and make medical decisions. Lawyers and insurance companies who are acting as authorized agents of the patient can also seek medical information.

How is this done?

Generally, the first step in obtaining medical records is contacting the Release or Information Department at the health facility that provided care. Sometimes this department is called Correspondence. Each facility will have unique guidelines in place for requests, but they are bound by the same legal obligations across the board. The department will provide a requesting party with a release form via fax, mail or in person. This release must be completed and signed by the patient or authorized party. Once this release form has been returned, the agency can then begin to fill a request.

How long does it take?

This can vary widely from facility to facility. A good rule of thumb is 5 to 14 working days. Small clinics can often deliver copies in two or three days. Major hospitals that are bogged down under requests from lawyers, insurance companies and patients will sometimes push the time to the very edge allowed by law. An important tip is to do a follow-up call to make sure the department received the request form if it was not delivered in person. These forms do get lost and you do not want to waste additional time obtaining medical records if you do not have to.

What is the cost?

Some facilities will provide one copy free of charge, but this is becoming increasingly rare. Many facilities use a tiered structure with the first pages being more expensive than subsequent ones. This helps keep the cost down for those with large charts. Others use a flat per sheet fee. The cost can range from 25 cents a page to a dollar or more. Other fees can be charged if a chart is off-site, on microfilm or involves x-rays and more complicated forms. The release of information department for each facility can provide a list of fees to a patient ahead of time.

Obtaining medical records is a smart idea if you are moving out of state or just far away. In an emergency, this information can be presented to a local doctor or hospital for care. Patients with complex histories can save valuable time by obtaining medical records in advance. There are plenty of things that can interfere with communications between medical facilities. Do not let your health and health care rest on unforeseen circumstances. If you have considered obtaining medical records in the past then you should probably commit to doing it this year. The peace of mind can be invaluable.