How To Get Your Medical Records

Image of nurse clutching a medical records folder protectively against her body.
You have the right to get copies of your medical records. Here's how to do it. Image © Hero Images/Getty Images

With a few exceptions, HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, gives you the right to review your medical records and to receive a copy of them. HIPAA privacy rules also give you the right to know who has accessed your private health information, reviewed your medical record, or received a copy of your medical record.

Before requesting your medical records, you need to understand which of your medical records you’re allowed to access and which ones you can be denied access to.

Which Records You Can Get

  • Records used to make decisions about you, your individual care, and your medical billing.
  • Medical records.
  • Your health insurance plan’s enrollment record.
  • Billing records and payment records.
  • Claim adjudication records.
  • Case management and medical management records.

When Your Own Medical Records Can Be Kept From You

Your health care provider can deny you access to certain types of medical records, or to medical records under certain circumstances. These types of records and circumstances include:

  • Psychotherapy notes.
  • Information compiled for use in a lawsuit.
  • Records not in a designated record set.
  • The access you’re requesting would endanger the life or safety of someone.
  • The information you’re requesting makes reference to another person and your access is likely to cause harm to the other person.
  • The information you’re requesting was provided to your health care provider under a promise of confidentiality, and what you’re requesting would reveal the source of the information.
  • You’re an inmate requesting a copy of your records from a correctional institution and this would jeopardize the health, safety, custody, or rehabilitation of you, another inmate, or an employee at the institution.
  • You’re requesting information created in the course of research and the research is still in progress. In this case, your right to access that part of your medical record may be temporarily suspended while the research is in progress as long as
    • the research includes treatment, and
    • you agreed to this temporary denial of access when consenting to participate in the research, and
    • you’ve been informed that your right to access your medical record will be reinstated once the research has been completed.

    Myths and Misconceptions About Getting Your Medical Records

    Yes, you can get your lab results directly from the lab. In the past, it was very difficult to get results of a blood tests, urine tests, and biopsies directly from the laboratory that performed the test. Instead of giving you your test results, the lab would tell you to get the results from the physician who ordered the test. Now, in most cases, a clinical lab must give you a copy of your lab results as long as you follow its procedure for requesting the result. It’s no longer acceptable for the lab to refuse your request thanks to a 2014 rule by the Department of Health & Human Services.

    You can’t be denied access because a family member or your provider fears that learning bad news will be emotionally difficult for you. You can be denied access to your medical records if that access is likely to endanger your life or safety. However, this doesn’t mean your provider can deny you access solely to spare you the stress of learning the bad-news truth about your medical condition.

    How To Request Your Medical Records

    First, decide which medical records you need to access. If you’re interested in the record of a hospitalization, it might be hundreds or even thousands of pages long if you were hospitalized for a long time or had a complicated problem with multiple specialists.

    Whittling your request down to just the documents you need saves time and possibly money.

    Similarly, if you’re requesting medical records from a physician’s practice, consider requesting only records from a specific date range or relating to a specific diagnosis. For example, rather than asking for a copy of the entire medical record from a physician you’ve been seeing for 15 years, try something like, “May I have copies of records pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment, and billing for the broken ankle I had in 2014?”

    Second, call the provider and ask what procedure you must follow to access your medical record.

    In the case of a hospital or facility, you need to speak with the medical records department, sometimes called health information management department or HIM department. Be prepared to supply the following information to your provider:

    • A written request to access the medical record. Your provider might want this to be on its particular form.
    • A description of how you’d like to access your medical records: paper copies mailed to you, a file on a flash drive, secure fax, secure email, etc.
    • Sufficient proof that you are who you say you are. A government-issued photo ID may be required if you’re making the request in person. If you’re making the request by mail or fax, some facilities will require that your signature on the request be notarized.

    In some cases, you may already have access to the information you’re looking for via your provider’s secure web-based patient portal. You may just need to be reminded of your user name and to reset your password.

    Under most circumstances, federal law gives your provider 30 days to respond to your request, although some states require a provider to respond more quickly. If your provider denies you access to the medical records you’ve requested, the denial must be in writing and include the reason why your request is being denied. In some cases, you have the right to request a review of that denial by another health care professional.

    Fees for Getting Your Medical Records

    Your provider may charge a reasonable amount for copying and mailing the medical records you’ve requested including the cost of supplies, labor, and postage. If you’ve requested a copy of your medical records on electronic media such as a flash drive or CD, you can be charged a reasonable amount for the electronic media. You shouldn’t be charged a service fee for searching for or accessing your records, though.

    If You Find Something Wrong With Your Medical Records

    HIPAA gives you the right to request that your health care provider or health plan amends inaccurate or incomplete information in your medical or billing records. If the problem is a simple factual inaccuracy such as an incorrect address, most providers happily comply. However, if the problem reflects a difference of opinion between you and your provider, the provider is not required to amend the record.

    If your provider refuses to amend an inaccurate or incomplete record, HIPAA gives you the right to add a statement of disagreement to your record.


    Your Medical Records. U.S. department of Health & Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, Health Information Privacy.  Accessed 5/23/2015.

    CLIA Program and HIPAA Privacy Rule; Patients' Access to Test Reports, Final Rule,  Federal Register Vol. 79, No. 25, February 6, 2014. Accessed 5/24/2015.

    45 CFR 164.524

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