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Requesting Your Medical Records

According to federal law, patients have the right to get copies of most medical records, whether they are paper copies, or electronic health records. Doctors' notes, medical test results, lab reports and billing information must be supplied to patients if they ask correctly.

The federal law that addresses medical records is called HIPAA (pronounced HIP-a), the Health Information Portability Accountability Act.

Who May Request Medical Records and Who Must Share Them

You must be the patient, or the parent or guardian of the patient for whom you seek records. Caregivers may be able to access records if the patient has provided written permission to the provider.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides good background information for understand who may have access to your records.

Providers are required to share any notes or records they have created themselves, or any test results for which they have copies. They are also required to share any information provided to them about you by another doctor if that information was used for the diagnosis and/or treatment being discussed with you.

Diagnostic lab test records, for such tests as blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, mammograms or others, should be requested from the doctor who ordered them, or your primary care physician. In most states, the lab will not provide them to you directly.

If you seek hospital records or records from any other medical facility, you will want to request them directly from that facility.

Be aware that you may be denied some records, usually related to mental health records. If a provider believes that letting you look at your medical records can endanger your physical health, your request may be refused. They cannot deny you access just because they think you will be upset, unless they believe revealing the information might lead you to physicially harming yourself. If you are refused, the provider must make that clear, in writing. 

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