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Medical Records and Your Rights as a Patient

Medical Records are Private and Protected

We frequently hear from clients whose doctors refuse to provide them with copies of their own medical records.  In other cases we hear from clients whose records have been disclosed to other persons without their knowledge and consent.   As a patient, it is important to know your rights both with respect to access to your own medical records and with respect to protecting your medical records from disclosure to third parties.

The first thing every patient should know is that their medical records are private and protected from disclosure by federal and state law.   Both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and New York State Public Health Law provide that medical records may not be released, copied, forwarded or otherwise disclosed by health care professionals without the written consent of the patient.   Your records are confidential and only you can authorize their release by your doctor by signing what is known as a HIPAA Authorization Form.

Furthermore, any information you provide to a health care professional for purposes of obtaining medical advice or treatment is protected by the Physician-Patient privilege.  Anything you say to your doctor is confidential and may not be disclosed by him to any other person without your consent.  The purpose of this privilege is to encourage patients to provide a full and complete medical history to their doctor without concern that this information will be shared with others.

Finally, you as the patient have an absolute right to obtain copies of your own medical records from your doctor or hospital.  While the original medical chart is technically the property of the health care provider, they must provide you with copies of all or part of their records upon your request.  This includes copies of all tests such as MRIs or x-rays, as well as copies of the doctor’s written notes and reports.

In many cases, doctors will advise their patient that they will only provide their records to another doctor, or to the patient’s lawyer.   In other cases, doctors require the patient to state a reason why they are requesting their records.  Such policies are improper under the Public Health law.  A doctor is required by law to provide their patient with a copy of their own medical records upon request and may not demand the patient to provide an explanation for wanting their own records.

The only restrictions on providing a patient with a copy of their own medical records is that the doctor may require the patient to sign a HIPAA Authorization consenting to the release of the records, and the doctor may charge the patient the reasonable charge for photocopying the records, up to 75 cents per page under New York Public Health Law.