Medical Records – Why Privacy is Good, But a Pain!

How to Order Patient Records in Virginia

Imagine your beloved grandmother visiting from out of town. While enjoying some delicious iced tea on your porch, she has chest pains and asks you to call 911. The ambulance driver / EMT asks you whether she is on any heart medication. You search her purse, and find only a business card for her local pharmacy. So you call – “Hello, I am Mrs. Jones’ granddaughter, it’s an emergency, and I need to know whether Granny is on any heart medication.”

Response: “We can’t disclose that to you Ma’am. We are sorry.” Well why can’t they tell you? After all, it’s a simple question and may serve to assist in hercare. Well, they can’t because of bureaucrats, and maybe, just maybe, the bureaucrats knew what they were doing. HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, now includes very specific provisions regarding the privacy of one’s medical records. Not only can the pharmacy not give you her prescription information, but they could be fined by the federal government if they did.

Why would it be important to keep your health care records private?

Well for one, if you apply for a job, what if the employer could call all of your treating physicians and find out if you are going to be a “health risk” or even worse, if you are going to use the insurance so much that rates increase?
What if doctors could release her health care information to anyone who asked? Do you think she may receive a few solicitations over the phone from salesmen trying to relieve her hypertension for the low, low price of $19.99 a month?

So while the privacy requirements of HIPAA may serve to add extra work for you or your family in the case of an emergency, the underlying purpose is your protection.

Be prepared, and get copies of your records.  Going to a specialist or new physician? It would be helpful if you brought a copy of your health care records with you.

Want a second opinion? It’s much easier for the new doctor to learn about the old doctor’s treatment from the actual records, than to rely upon your memory.

Want to visit an attorney and discuss nursing home, physician or hospital malpractice? The records will determine whether or not you have a case.

And how do you get your records if you want them?

  • The person who actually received treatment (or their legal representative) needs to be the one requesting the records. This means, that she needs to ask for her own records.
  • Make the request in writing. A call to the pharmacy is not sufficient.
  • Make sure the request is dated, because health care providers only have 30 days to provide your records.
  • Be prepared to pay for copying costs – at least reasonable costs.
  • If you think something is missing – ask about it right away. Was there some lab work last year? Better ask now before you forget or they get misplaced.
  • It’s also important to keep updated copies of your own records. If you have a loved one who has been in a Nursing Home or Assisted Living facility for a long time – ask for a copy of their records every few months. It will be a very telling experience to examine what has or has not been recorded in the records. Better to ask every few months, than have something horrible happen and only then learn, that your grandmother’s dehydration levels or blood sugars weren’t being monitored, or that her doctor hasn’t been there in months.

So the moral of the story is – get a copy of your records, you never know when they might come in handy!