18 November 2010

Your Legal Rights to Medical Records in the USA

Your medical records are important to you. A federal law called the HIPAA Privacy Rule gives you the right to see, get a copy of, and amend (correct) your medical record by adding information to it. This link should get you most of the information necessary under the federal law and the laws of your state. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Why is this so important? Because everyone should be able to track what is entered in their medical records for accuracy and completeness. Everyone is human and mistakes can be made. Test results are important and getting copies of these allow you to track the test results over time and discern for yourself what is happening to your health. The test will show you trends, whether they are good or bad and can alert you to something the doctor may have missed. You normally should be able to get copies of test results almost immediately.

When compared to the standards for that test, what do the results mean? Before this can be explained, you need to know what the standards are for the lab doing the tests. These should be with the results. Standards for testing labs in the United States can vary between labs and labs in different states even if owned by the same firm. If you made the statement that this is not good, you are right.

An observation – even though the American Diabetes Association had declared that the lab standard variances for the HbA1c test has been corrected and standardized, this is not necessarily the case. Some labs have a long way to go to improve and meet a national standard. The need is great for federal set of standards which each lab would be mandated to follow or face being put out of business or at minimum face punitive fines.

Test results over time for an individual done by the same lab should point out changes in a person's health and which direction the changes are occurring. Now getting to your medical records may be more difficult. There are delaying tactics used by many physicians and by most hospitals that are quite effective. This is to allow them time to sanitize the records and remove personal comments entered by medical personnel that they don't want you to see. If they think there is a possibility of legal repercussions, the delaying tactics can be very convincing. Unfortunately, they generally have 30 days that they can legally delay access to an individual and most will use as much of this time as they need.

Do not think that you can just go in and ask to see your medical records. Won't happen! They do not keep enough people on staff for this and they want to review them before you see them. All will still tell you that you must request specifically what you want and they will make copies for you. They will not allow you to handle the records (for good reasons). Also be prepared to pay a handsome fee for this service. The thicker your records are the greater the fee, if you ask for everything.

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