Medical records are the documents and files that cover a person’s medical history. They inform doctors and other medical personnel of current and past medical conditions, ailments, and other important information. Medical records can contain information such as:
- The types of medication the person is taking;
- Whether the person has any allergies or contraindications or interactions with other medications;
- Records of previous surgeries, therapy, and other occurrences;
- Records of illnesses and congenital conditions, if any; and/or
- Various other medical information.
Personal injury law involves a plaintiff being injured by another person or entity. When the plaintiff’s injuries are physical, medical information may be needed to prove that the defendant’s actions actually did cause the physical injury. Often, attorneys will request potential clients have medical records with them during the initial consultation in order to see if the client even has a claim that can be pursued in court.
Medical records can also be used for other purposes in a lawsuit, such as determining whether a person has a pre-existing medical condition at the time of their injury.
The presence of a pre-existing medical condition can sometimes affect the outcome of the damages award calculations. For instance, if a person was in a car accident and injured their neck, they may receive less damages if the courts can show that the accident only aggravated a previous neck injury.
Can I Obtain a Copy of My Medical Records?
According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), individuals can receive a copy of their own medical records from any provider. There are a few exceptions where a person cannot obtain their medical records.
According to HIPAA, patients have the right to view original medical records, except:
- Psychotherapy notes;
- Medical information a provider believes could endanger the health and safety of others; and
- Information that is being gathered and compiled for a lawsuit.
- Such as records that are being gathered during the discovery process, as such a request would need to be made through the court.
Besides individuals seeking their own medical records, other people who can request them including:
- A designated representative; and
- The person’s legal guardian.
Can I Receive the Medical Records of a Deceased Individual?
This may depend on several factors. Generally speaking, the only person who can obtain a copy of a deceased individual’s medical records is the estate’s personal representative.
The personal representative may be appointed by the court or through the deceased person’s will. Other people, such as a family member or a close friend, will need to ask the representative or petition the court to obtain a copy on their behalf if they want one.
It usually takes about 30 days to receive copies of a person’s medical records. Some states such as California have a quicker turnaround. In California, it may only take about 15 days to receive medical records.
What is the Process of Obtaining the Medical Records?
Each state and healthcare provider have their own rules on how one must go about requesting their medical records. However, a person must usually:
- Contact the medical provider to find out where the request should be sent;
- Make a written request;
- Include the name, telephone number, address, date of birth, email address, and medical record number in the request;
- Complete a release form; and
- Indicate whether the request is for originals and/or copies of the medical records.
If you are unsure of the legality of obtaining a certain batch of medical records, then you may need to consult with a lawyer. An attorney in your area can inform you of your rights and capabilities when it comes to obtaining medical records, especially in preparation for trial.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me Request My Medical Records?
If you have suffered a personal injury, you do have the right to obtain copies of your medical records, and you have the right to appeal any denial of your request for those records. These records may be necessary to prove that you were injured or to prove that the injury was not a prior-existing injury. Contact a personal injury lawyer near you to get help with this task.