How to access your medical records
Your medical records are a gold mine of information about your health. They contain details about your doctor appointments, tests, medications, hospital visits, surgeries, and more. The question of who owns those records is a little hazy. Federal law hasn’t decided, and ownership laws vary by state. In Illinois, the healthcare provider owns the record.
But you have the right to see your records or obtain a copy of them, says Raquel Gabriel-Bennewitz, a registered nurse and independent healthcare advocate based in Palos Park. Federal law protects “a patient’s legal right to access the healthcare information, obtain copies of the information, and utilize it as they wish to continue on with their care,” Gabriel-Bennewitz says.
Keep an up-to-date copy of your medical records to stay informed and to save time when you need them. Here are the best practices for obtaining those records.
Complete the request form. Fill out a record request form at the hospital or provider’s office. They must send you a copy of your records within 30 days. You may be able to get the copy sooner if you need it urgently, say, for an appointment with a specialist. Certainly you should ask, Gabriel-Bennewitz says.
Be prepared to pay or negotiate down the fees. Medical providers are legally permitted to charge patients for copies of their medical records. In Illinois, current maximum rates are $1.18 a page for the first 25 pages, with a reduced per-page amount for subsequent pages. The request form may ask the purpose of the request. If so, Gabriel-Bennewitz recommends checking for “continuation of care,” which may get the fee waived.
Know that some materials are excluded. Federal law does not give patients access to their psychotherapist’s notes about treatment or materials related to a legal case. Mental health professionals may deny access if there’s a risk of endangering the life or physical safety of the individual or of another person.
Add to the record. After every appointment or hospital stay, ask the medical team to print a copy of the doctor’s notes, discharge summary, and test results. You may need to follow up a few days later to get the most recent records. Whenever you have imaging, request a copy when you arrive for your appointment.
Make corrections. If your record has errors, call your provider’s office or notify the hospital’s medical records department. If you are still in the hospital, ask the nurse manager for assistance. The provider must respond within 60 days and note your corrections request in your record. However, you may have to provide supportive evidence.
Maintain your own copy. Keep a personal copy of all medical records, either on a flash drive or in paper form. Store a second copy at a family member’s or friend’s home, or store records on an external hard drive in a separate place, as with any computer back up. After all, you wouldn’t leave a pile of gold just sitting around anywhere.
If you believe that your right to see, get a copy of, or make corrections to your medical records has been violated, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights.
Originally published in the Fall 2022/Winter 2023 print issue.