Can I see my own medical records?

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All medical providers, including doctors, hospitals, physical therapists, dentists and mental health practitioners, are legally required to keep medical records. And you, as the patient, have a right to access those records. That being said, while there are state laws and regulations relating to how and when medical records should be made available, your doctors’ office may have additional policies in place to help keep your records safe.

Can my doctor charge me for my own medical records?
Yes! In New York, doctors may charge up to 75 cents per page for paper medical records. Radiological films may cost considerably more. While some offices may give you copies for free, they are not required to do so.

What if I haven’t paid my bill—can my doctor refuse to turn over my records?
No. New York State law prohibits doctors from holding your records hostage; however, they can charge you the per-page fee and refuse to turn over the records until those fees are paid.

How do I request medical records?
You should request medical records in writing to the particular office or hospital that maintains them. Some offices may require you to fill out a HIPAA release form, which is funny because you are giving yourself access to your own records, but it may be part of their protocol. Many hospitals don’t actually keep their records on site but instead use a third-party record keeper that may be housed in an entirely different state. When that happens, you may actually receive your records from a company you’ve never heard of like Verisma or Healthport rather than your doctor or hospital.

How long are my records kept?
State law only requires that medical records be kept for 6 years. Doctors need to keep records of babies and children for six years or until that child turns 19, whichever is later. Hospitals must keep those records for 6 years or until age 21, whichever is later. While many offices may keep records longer than six years, they are not required to do so.

How long does it take to get my medical records?
New York State law requires that records must be available for inspection within 10 days—meaning you can go to the office and look at them. There is no time frame for when copies of records need to be sent, however the Department of Health considers 10-14 days to be a reasonable time frame. In practice, it usually takes anywhere from 6-8 weeks to get medical records, particularly when you are dealing with a third-party record keeper.

But what about the online patient portal—can’t I just access my records from there?
Most online patient portals do not contain the entire patient record that an attorney or medical provider would get if they made the request. Usually these portals only contain lab results, medication lists, and general summaries—not the office notes themselves.
I got my records, but it seems like huge parts are missing!

A physician is entitled to deny you access to certain parts of your medical record, including personal notes and observations; information provided by another party that the doctor agreed to keep confidential; information relating to the treatment of a minor; information the provider believes may cause substantial harm to the patient or others; notes from other doctors; and records relating to substance abuse and mental health treatment. This means that the part of your doctors’ note where she writes down her impression of what is wrong with you and what she thinks about your complaints can be kept private. Your mental health counselor’s notes from the session can be kept private. A note from a call made by a family member about you that they asked the doctor to keep confidential can be removed from your copy of your own record. For these reasons it is better to let your attorney request your records, even if that means incurring a fee, because they are more likely to get the whole thing.

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