Information About Your Medical Records

closeup of surgical mask, stethoscope, and gloves

If you are involved in a personal injury claim or lawsuit, for example a car accident or a slip and fall, even medical malpractice, then your medical records may be—and likely are—a key component of your case. If you file a legal claim after a car accident, you may need to prove that the accident, and not a previous medical condition, caused your injuries. There are also situations when the severity of your injuries is in dispute, which would require you to submit documentation of your injuries. In addition, for medical malpractice suits, your records are vitally important, because they track what your physician has done. Because of the importance of your records, it is good to know how to go about getting them, what it is you need to do, and what protects your rights to them.

The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives patients the right to obtain copies of their medical records from any medical provider, with a few exceptions as to what content they can obtain. According to the law, you may request your own medical records, someone else’s records if you are their designated representative or legal guardian, and in some cases the records of deceased persons. If you have been given permission in writing by another party to be their representative—for example, your elderly parents might designate you, or a spouse—medical providers must provide you with the records you request. If you are the legal guardian of an adult, you have similar rights.

In the case of your children, the rights become a bit more complex. For the most part, you can obtain your child’s medical records with a few exceptions. You may not obtain your child’s records if the child has consented to medical care and parental consent is not required under state law, if the child gets medical care at the direction of a court, or if the parent has agreed that the minor and the medical provider have a confidential relationship. Another complex situation is when you need to obtain the records of a deceased individual. The law allows that if you are the personal representative of the state, HIPAA gives you access to that deceased individual’s records. In addition, if you are related to a deceased person and certain information in that person’s file relates to your own health, HIPAA allows you to access that relevant information.

HIPAA allows patients the right to get copies of all of their medical records, and patients also have the right to view their original medical records, generally at the medical provider’s offices. There are certain types of records that may be withheld; for example, psychotherapy notes, information that the provider is gathering and compiling for lawsuits, and medical information that the provider believes could reasonably endanger your life, your physical safety, or the safety of another person.

Generally, if the provider denies your request, it must provide you with a denial letter; in some cases you may be able to appeal the denial. If you have not been denied access, providers then have 30 days to provide you with copies of the records; if it will take more than 30 days, the provider must give you a reason for the delay. Keep in mind that some states require quicker timeframes.

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