Out of the many thousands–possibly millions–of people who have been injured by a drug or product they were told was safe to use, you would be unpleasantly surprised at how many of them believe coming forward isn’t worth the effort. And who could blame them?
The legal system often seems designed to favor the big corporations responsible, and the process of navigating everything involved with a successful lawsuit is overwhelming and time consuming. That includes the need to gather medical records that contain critical evidence for a winning case. But when you Join the Many, it doesn’t have to be.
Why Is It So Hard to Get Your Medical Records?
If you’ve ever tried to get your hands on your medical records, you’re probably familiar with how tricky it can be. From confusing privacy laws and regulations to shady dealings with health providers, some victims are faced with obstacles that make the entire experience seem hopeless.
A recent study by Yale researchers published in JAMA Network Open journal demonstrates just how difficult it can be for patients to obtain their own medical records. They received confusing or wrong information when calling to request their records, were charged exorbitant fees, couldn’t request to receive them via email and, in some cases, were exposed to practices that directly violated HIPAA laws that regulate how medical records are handled.
Even providers who operate with integrity can cause trouble for patients as they try to request 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.
When you’re already dealing with illness, lost wages, injury, and any other result of the harm experienced at the hands of companies you thought you could trust, navigating broken systems and predatory practices is the last thing you want to do. Join the Many will handle it on your behalf, so you can focus on healing and spending time with your family.
Medical Records Are Critical to Successful Lawsuits
While your records may be difficult to obtain, that doesn’t make them any less important to your potential lawsuit against the corporation that harmed you. They’re used to determine if your case is likely to be a successful one, and having them on hand will reduce the time it takes to win any compensation you’re owed. They are crucial pieces of documentation for any legal proceeding that involves injury or illness.
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.
More on Medical Records
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
Patient Rights to 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 to Request Medical Records
If you’re trying to get copies of your medical records without help from Join the Many, 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
The provider or facility will almost certainly charge a fee for sending you copies of your records. This varies, but under HIPAA regulations, the fee must be considered “reasonable.”
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.
You can avoid all of this when you Join the Many. Once we’ve reviewed your case and determined it may qualify for a settlement, we’ll ask for your permission to gather records on your behalf. We’ll jump through any hoops necessary to secure the information needed to win your case, and you can rest assured it will not be unlawfully shared or mishandled.
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. 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.
Of course, Join the Many will do the work to track down records in this scenario as well. With your permission, we’ll be able to locate the records needed to prove your case and hold the company that harmed you accountable.
Medical Records You Can’t Access
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. When you Join the Many and agree to have us gather your records on your behalf, we’ll be able to act as your personal representative and gain lawful access to your 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. If you Join the Many to get justice for a loved one who passed away, keep in mind you will need to be legally able to sign off on our record gathering services.
When you’re ready to learn how to benefit by taking action against the company that harmed you and your family, get started with a free, fast case review with Join the Many. Together, we’ll determine if you may be eligible for a settlement, gather your medical records, and connect you with the best legal care for your case. There are no legal fees unless you’re awarded compensation.