The question of what hospitals and doctors can charge for copies of medical records is a hot topic for patients and their attorneys who are considering medical malpractice and negligence cases. The records are obviously essential to a medical malpractice investigation.
More and more providers are using third-party vendors, like HealthPort, to process requests for medical records, and we are seeing more and more trouble with this process. The trouble relates to three main issues: 1) the time it takes for patients to receive copies of their records, 2) what they are charged, and 3) receiving incomplete or incomprehensible records.
In Virginia, providers have 15 days to provide copies of requested medical records to patients and their attorneys. It is important to keep evidence of when you submit your written request for records, because when we follow-up after 15 days has passed, providers and third-party vendors like HealthPort often claim they never received the request.
The second problem is how much patients get charged for copies of their medical records. Virginia law allows providers to charge for paper copies, generally $0.50 per page up to 50 pages and then $0.25 per page after that. They may also charge for postage and shipping costs and a search and handling fee of not more than $10. For electronic copies, providers can charge a “reasonable” cost-based fee, but what that amounts to is not set out specifically.
My most recent battle about charges for medical records involved records produced on one CD in .pdf form. The charge: $1,940 for the CD. The vendor also charged our client $83.20 to ship the CD to us by regular mail through the postal service. The actual shipping cost was $1.85, as reflected on the shipping label.
As a practical matter, providers sometimes do not charge patients for copies if the patients request the records themselves, but almost always charge attorneys who request the records for their clients.
Completeness and Clarity
The third problem is when records are not complete and/or they are produced in a way that makes them incomprehensible. It is mostly electronic records that appear incomprehensible. They can run on and on like toilet paper with no clear delineation between providers, notes, dates, etc. They sometimes have tables and graphs without reference points, they are not grouped by type of note or procedure, they are not in chronological order, and/or the page numbers are incorrect. We see at least one of these problems with almost every set of records we get.
We also sometimes receive incomplete sets of records despite requesting “the complete medical record.” We have not been able to determine exactly why records from the same facilities and processed by the same vendors can look so different. These things seem to happen more when third-party vendors are involved. It may just be the luck of the draw as to which employee happens to process the request and how that employee was trained.
Two identical requests that land in the hands of two different employees can produce very different sets of records. We see this frequently enough that we have developed strategies to combat it, but we have not been able to prevent it all together.
In case there is any question about how frequently these problems occur, just since I began this post, I have dealt with these issues twice. I received an email about a client who has been unable to get her medical records despite a proper request, the passage of more than 15 days, and a promise from the vendor that they shipped the records to her more than a week ago. I also received a call from a hospital’s medical records department instructing me that they do not accept records requests by fax from attorneys, but will accept faxes from our clients.
How to Help
We appreciate clients who take an interest in and actively help with their cases, but if you are considering a medical malpractice case, get an attorney involved early to help you navigate these potential snafus. Speaking from experience, it can save you and your attorney a lot of time, money, and headaches, something everyone appreciates!
Lauren E. Davis at Frith & Ellerman Law Firm in Roanoke, Virginia is an experienced personal injury, medical malpractice, and nursing home negligence attorney serving Virginia.
Learn more about our services at https://frithlawfirm.com/ or call us at (540)985-0098.