Should You Bother Getting a Copy of Your Medical Records?

Why yes, you should.

I manage the HIPAA program at a large medical center in the South. About 70-75% of the complaints I receive are about the accuracy of the patient’s medical record. That’s a lot of complaints.

Sometimes the patients want changes made to their records that are just outright fraud. For example, there was the patient last year who wanted me to make his provider add a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, so that he, the patient, could get more government benefits. Nevermind that the patient didn’t have bi-polar disorder, or any other diagnosed mental disorder; he just wanted the extra money from the benefits.

More often, though, the patients who contact me have legitimate concerns about the information that has been recorded in their medical records. Right now I’ve got a patient whose provider erroneously copied and pasted another patient’s post-surgical notes into his online medical record. The patient is post-op hip replacement. The other patient is post-op removal of a possible cancerous mole. Aside from the obvious problems associated with this kind of mix-up, there are significant potential patient safety issues, as well.

I could give you many more examples of mistakes that have been made in medical records. The point is that you really should request a copy of your medical records from each of your providers. You need to read the records and see what’s in them.

Here are a few things to keep in mind: you have a statutory (legal) right to a copy of your medical records as long as they have not been sequestered as part of a medical-legal action, and you cannot obtain a copy of handwritten notes that are maintained by a mental health provider. Other than that — you have an absolute right to a copy of your records.

Second, keep in mind that your medical records are about you, but they do not belong to you. So the idea that you should be able to get your medical records because “they’re yours” is not true. You are entitled only to a copy of them.

Third, you may get a copy of the medical records of a family member if you have written authorization from the family member to obtain a copy. Parents, you generally don’t need an authorization from your (minor, unemancipated) children in order to get a copy of their records; obtaining copies of medical records for teens, in which there are questions regarding birth control and certain procedures, is dependent on the laws of the state in which you reside.

Most important, your request must be in writing. Your provider has up to 60 days to provide you with the copy of your records, and your provider may charge you a reasonable copying fee.

Had trouble getting a copy of your medical records? Contact me privately at I would be happy to help. And yes, I expect to launch a website within the next 30-60 days. In the meantime, I’m glad to help you with any questions you may have about your medical privacy.


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