Someday you may need or want copies of your medical records. Reasons include curiosity, aiding with current medical treatment or even a lawsuit related to your medical care. Sources include treating physicians, hospitals and other health care providers.

Like most other records and documents concerning your personal information, such as school transcripts and driving records, you have rights to view, access and obtain copies of these important files. Learn about access basics and complete your personal files.

Medical Record Use, Access and Privacy

A variety of state and federal laws and agency regulations affect access to medical records. They control the process for patient access and protect privacy and use of the information found in these personal files. Key laws and regulations include:

The Federal Privacy Act of 1974. This law regulates the handling of health care information by federal agencies, and access to the medical records they hold.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the main federal law addressing patient privacy and electronic records, and covers access to these sources. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) will add to HIPAA protection by giving consumers the right to access reports to see who has viewed their electronic records, working much like free credit reports. The reporting system should be available by 2013.

In addition, privacy regulations issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services require health care plans, doctors, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other covered entities to provide you access to your medical records within 30 days.

The state laws in the medical service provider's location tell you how to access your medical records. State laws cover:

  • Records providers must keep, and time limits for maintaining your files
  • Who has access to records
  • How to request access to or copies of a medical record
  • Fees and time allowed for processing requests
  • Scope of information you can access. Some parts of a medical record, such as a doctor's personal notes may be excluded
  • Responses and remedies when records requests are denied

Remember, look to the law in the state where the medical provider was located and the health care service was performed. When searching for the law in a given state, try your state's health department web site, to search laws and regulations using a key terms such as health care and medical record.

Learn how to get your records the right way with these tips.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Are there penalties if a health care provider fails to allow records access or deliver copies?
  • Can a provider withhold records if a patient's bill isn't paid?
  • I think a provider breached the privacy of my medical file. Do I have a legal claim? Do I have to show some real harm?

Tagged as: Health Care, medical records, health care lawyer