Often, we need to submit our medical records to qualify for a job, apply for a benefit or welfare, or even keep a record of our health over time. However, we generally visit many doctors and hospitals, and it may happen that when we move to another city, we no longer have access to our medical records.
In those cases, we might consider asking a friend or family member to help us retrieve our clinical documentation, but it is not as easy as it sounds.
There is a federal law called HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) that regulates access to health information; keep reading and you will find essential information on this matter.
What are Medical Records?
A medical record or history is the documentation that contains all the information related to your health. It includes your visits to the hospital, results of medical examinations, diagnoses (even if you have had several), treatments, how medications were administered, the name of the doctors who treated you, etc.; basically, all the information related to the health of people can be found in their medical records.
Health personnel are responsible for using this information. They, therefore, have an obligation to do it carefully because, in many cases, medical records have saved more than one doctor in court from medical malpractice lawsuits.
Medical Records Access
Generally, we tend to think that medical records are private and that no one other than ourselves could have access to them. However, you would be surprised to know that other people can access your health information under certain circumstances; this means that someone other than your close family can access your medical records, and the law empowers them to do so.
There are 2 types of documents: the individual record and the aggregate record. The first one refers to a single person’s information, such as his/her name, his/her doctors, hospitals visited, diagnoses, and treatments; it is the medical record that we all know.
On the other hand, the aggregate record is what hospitals do to create a database that includes hundreds of patients with similar diagnoses or who have the same insurance company and other categories that allow the records to be sub-classified.
Now that we know the 2 general types of records, let’s review who has access to which kind.
All of us can request our medical records at the hospital we go to, the doctor’s office, laboratories, and any medical entity that provided us with medical assistance.
Close relatives or caregiver
You can give a loved one or caregiver permission to have access. To do so, you must write an expressed authorization for them to request your medical record from any hospital.
➔ READ MORE: What is a Medical Power Of Attorney Form?
Insurance companies and other institutions
This is perhaps one of the biggest questions we ask ourselves, do insurance companies have access to medical records? The answer is yes; the HIPAA authorizes institutions that pay (completely or partly) for your healthcare to access your medical documentation.
However, just because they can access it does not mean that the information will be exposed to the public. It will remain private, but they need to verify your documentation to evaluate your contract or the amount of the benefit (in case it is a social assistance program).
This is done by institutions such as Medicaid, Social Security Disability, Medicare, and any other insurance company.
All healthcare providers have access to your records for obvious reasons and are also authorized to share the information with whoever you have authorized to receive it. For example, if a doctor refers you to another hospital for treatment, you will need to sign a letter giving permission for your records to be released.
Federal and State Agencies
In some cases, these agencies may have access to your medical information, such as child protective services or the police, if they are involved in legal procedures.
Medical Information Bureau (MIB Group)
Since it is a non-profit institution whose main purpose is to help insurance companies evaluate the eligibility of policyholders, if your insurance company has an alliance with MIB, they will have access to your medical records.
A representative staff is a person authorized under state law to make decisions regarding an individual’s health care. This person can access your medical records and represent you in everything related to your healthcare. Situations regarding this subject are totally regulated in 45 CFR 164.502 (g); you can review more information about representative relatives here.
How to obtain the medical records from a closed hospital?
Many times the hospital we go to may be closed after several years, but don’t worry, you can still have access to your medical records.
When this happens, all health documentation is sent to a state health center or a safekeeping company. You can go to your local health department and ask to which institution your medical records were sent.