If you were injured or became sick because of a drug or product you believed to be safe, and you’re considering taking legal action, avoid this headache with some preparedness and help from Join the Many. Start by learning about the ins and outs of medical records, your rights to obtaining them, and how we can make it simple by collecting them for you.
Why Are Medical Records Needed for Lawsuits?
Before we jump into the finer points of medical records, it’s important to understand why you would need them for your lawsuit against a negligent company. Legal professionals use medical records to determine if your lawsuit has a good chance to succeed. Most importantly, providing those records quickly will reduce the amount of time you’ll have to wait for compensation.
Here’s how a lawyer may use your medical records in a lawsuit:
- Strong evidence. The legal system relies heavily on documentary evidence to prove wrongdoing, making medical records especially valuable. They’ll help show that your injury is related to a company’s negligence rather than a past or pre-existing condition.
- Damage assessment. Your medical records can be used in court to show the extent of your injuries, which will help determine how much compensation you’re entitled to.
- Building your case. A lawyer will use your records to gain a true understanding of the harm you’ve endured and how it has affected your quality of life. They can use this information to build a strong argument against the company responsible.
- Establish a standard of care provided. If your case involves medical malpractice, your records will help establish whether the standard of care was met. They act as a paper trail of any errors or other instances of negligence that led to your injury, and help link your injury to any damages you could recover in court.
What Are Medical Records?
In the simplest terms, your medical records are a history of your health. They follow you throughout your life as you see doctors or other health providers, obtain insurance, undergo treatment, testing, and everything in between. Your medical records provide doctors and insurance providers with a comprehensive view of your medical history by documenting information about your:
- Age, gender, and ethnicity
- Height and weight
- Medical problems (such as asthma, epilepsy, or diabetes)
- Mental health issues (such as anxiety or depression)
- Test results (from lab tests, X-rays, etc.)
- Medicines, including doses and how often the medicine is taken
- Allergies to medicines (both prescription and nonprescription), insect stings and bites, food, and any other substances (such as latex)
- Surgeries and hospitalizations
- Immunizations (shots)
- Billing and insurance details
In general, your medical records serve four purposes:
- To contain sufficient, accurate information to identify you (the patient)
- To support a diagnosis and justify treatment
- To document the course and results of treatment
- To promote continuity of care between healthcare providers
How Long Are Medical Records Kept?
Timing is an important factor when it comes to obtaining medical records. It varies by state, but most providers, including doctors, hospitals, and labs, are lawfully required to keep adult medical records for at least six years. Medical records for children and teens must be kept until they’re no longer considered minors. The exact age varies by state.
Your Right to Access Medical Records
Medical records are unique in that they are both medical and legal documents. They’re protected by certain stipulations that prevent them from falling into the wrong hands or being unlawfully shared. Importantly, those same stipulations also give you the right to access them as needed.
The Health insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) of 1996 granted patients the right to obtain copies of most of their medical records. Whether providers maintain them electronically or on paper, or even if a health provider is no longer practicing, the records must be stored and accessible to patients.
Here are some examples of records you have the right to obtain:
- Notes or records a provider created themselves
- Copies of diagnostic results for things like blood tests, X-rays, mammograms, genetic tests, biopsies, etc.
- Information provided by another healthcare provider that was used to establish a diagnosis and/or direct treatment
According to HIPAA, you have the right to request medical records if you:
- Are the patient or the parent/guardian of the patient whose records are being requested.
- Are the caregiver or advocate who has obtained written permission from the patient. In some cases, the healthcare provider will provide you a permission form that the patient must complete.
How Much Does It Cost to Request Medical Records?
If you want your medical records delivered to you on paper or electronically, or even via fax, you’ll likely be charged. The price will vary, but it must always be considered “reasonable.”
How to Request Medical Records
While HIPAA regulations are in place to protect your privacy, they’re so extensive that there isn’t an official process in place for requesting medical records. You may also find that the enforcement of those regulations varies from provider to provider. This can create headaches when it comes to obtaining your records, even if you’re fully entitled to them.
In most cases, it’s best to go directly to the source: a provider or facility that has treated you. You’ll probably be asked to fill out a form, which you can pick up at the office, or request for it to be mailed, faxed, or emailed to you. You can also write a letter to make your request. Be sure to include:
- Your name
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Address and phone number
- Email address
- The list of records being requested
- The dates of service
- Delivery option (fax, post, email, in person)
- Your signature
After you make your request, be prepared to wait. State laws usually require delivery within 30 to 60 days. To be safe, keep a copy of your original request. If you don’t receive your records after multiple requests, contact your state’s Department of Health for help.
What If a Provider Is No Longer Practicing?
Obtaining medical records can get even more frustrating if a provider retires or moves, or if a facility closes. But don’t worry–that doesn’t mean your records are lost. Here are some things you can do:
- Contact your state or local medical society. Most of these organizations require providers to register annually, so they should be able to provide up-to-date contact information.
- Check with your health insurance company. If your provider is still practicing in network, the insurer will have their contact details.
- Contact hospitals where your provider made rounds. Your provider was required to obtain special privileges to practice in those facilities, and their HR departments should have accurate contact details.
If you get stuck, you may have to reconstruct your records by getting in touch with the various labs, hospitals, and specialists you’ve seen. This is a daunting task, but your health insurance providers, past and present, can help by sharing details of claims made on your behalf.
Medical Records You May Be Denied Access To
While most of your medical records are rightfully available to you, providers are legally able to withhold others. More often than not, these include mental health records where the provider’s notes may be considered “impressions” instead of an actual diagnosis. Some argue that giving patients access to such records could harm the provider-patient relationship, or be misconstrued out of context. Providers may also withhold information if it’s being used in a lawsuit.
No matter the reason, if you’re denied access to a set of medical records, the denial and reasoning must be provided to you in writing.
Keep in mind your records can never be withheld from you for non-payment. If you haven’t paid the healthcare provider or facility for a service, they can’t use that as a reason to deny you access to your records or charge you an exorbitant fee in exchange for access.
What to Do If You’re Unlawfully Denied Access to Records
If you feel like you’re being unlawfully denied access to your medical records, don’t back down. File a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services within 180 days of the denial. If the OCR agrees you’ve been treated unfairly, it will instruct the provider or facility to release your records to you, or enforce a settlement if actual harm was done.
You can also file a complaint with the OCR if you believe your medical confidentiality has been breached.
Who Else Can Access Your Records?
Aside from you, only a personal representative can gain access to your medical records. According to HIPAA, this is someone you’ve formally named via legal processes that vary between states. For example, your power of attorney automatically has access to your medical records.
If you’re seeking medical records of a person who has passed away, know that their personal representative is the executor or administrator of their estate, or whoever is authorized by a court or state law to act on their behalf.
Join the Many for Easier Access to Your Medical Records
If all of this sounds overwhelming, you aren’t alone. Obtaining medical records feels like an uphill battle in an already exhausting and frustrating legal process. But it doesn’t have to be.
When you Join the Many to hold the company that harmed you accountable for their negligence, we make this step–and every other step of your legal journey–as simple as possible. Once we determine you have a qualifying case, we’ll ask you to give us permission to gather medical records that are relevant to your case on your behalf. You won’t have to worry about tracking down documents or chasing after health providers. We’ll do the work so you don’t have to.
Most importantly, you can rest assured your information will be kept completely confidential and will not be unlawfully shared or otherwise mishandled. We’re here to take care of you–not cause additional headaches. Get started now with a free case review in as little as ten minutes.