Access to Medical Records and Patients' Legal Rights Under HIPAA
When you go to a new doctor or get a referral to a specialist, you may need to provide them with a copy of your medical records. You also may need your medical records if you are bringing a personal injury claim related to an accident, or in other situations. Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patients have a right to get nearly all types of medical records from any healthcare provider. They can go to the doctor’s office to view their records as well. Healthcare providers can prevent patients from getting or viewing only a few types of records, most notably records that contain information that could endanger the life of the patient or someone else. They also may be able to withhold information that is being collected for litigation, as well as some psychotherapy records.
A healthcare provider must release records to a patient within 30 days of the request, unless they can provide an explanation for the delay. Shorter time periods apply in some states. The time period may be different depending on whether the patient asks to view the records in the doctor’s office or asks for a copy of the records. If the healthcare provider refuses to release the medical records, you sometimes can appeal the denial. You probably will receive a letter from the provider that explains the basis for the denial, which can help you decide whether an appeal would be worthwhile.
Patients also have the right to direct their provider to release their medical records to another person or entity.
Requesting the Records of Other Patients
You even have a right to request the medical records of certain other people, although some exceptions may apply. For example, you generally can gain access to the medical records of a child for whom you are a parent or a guardian. Access will be withheld if the child has a confidential relationship with the doctor, the child has consented to medical care for which parental consent is not required, or the child is receiving medical care due to a court order.
If you are the legal guardian of an adult, you can obtain their records as well. You also can obtain the records of someone for whom you are a designated representative if you have written permission to access their records. Sometimes an elderly person will designate an adult child as their representative so that the child can inspect their records, or someone with a cognitive disability might designate a family member.
The personal representative of an estate will have access to the medical records of the deceased person. You might be appointed to serve as a personal representative in the will of the decedent, or a court might appoint you to this role after the decedent’s death. If you are not the personal representative of a family member’s estate, you still may be able to access their medical records to the extent that they contain information related to your health.