Harvard Health Letter

Access to medical records gets a boost

It's getting easier to obtain copies of your medical records. While the information from doctors, hospitals, and health insurance plans is legally yours to review, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that some doctors and institutions don't always make it easy to obtain records. So in January 2016, HHS released new guidelines on the topic, making clear that consumers do not have to give a reason for a records request; they can ask for the records by mail or email, and do not have to pick up the records in person; they can have copies of their records even if they've failed to pay medical bills; and they must not be denied access to their records if a doctor or institution has concerns that the information will upset the individual, unless the person is suicidal. You may have to pay a fee to cover copying costs if you want a printed version of your records. But the guidelines say you should not be charged for the time an institution spends looking for your information. HHS guidelines also state that most records requests should be granted within 30 days. For more information, check out the guidelines at http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa.