How to keep track of your medical records

Retrieving old files can be complicated, but your health is worth it.

Amanda Capritto
5 min read
Medical records at Bronglais Hospital, Ceredigion National Health Trust, Aberystwyth, Wales

You have a right to (most) of your medical records. Learn what you can and can't request, and how to keep track of them. 

Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When I moved cross-country, the last thing on my mind was collecting and organizing my health records -- until I needed to see various healthcare professionals in my new state. It was a nightmare: hours spent on the phone, scouring the internet for various past providers, and begging my new dentist to believe that I had, in fact, gotten dental x-rays less than a year ago. 

Don't even get me started on all the insurance hang-ups. 

It should be easier to keep track of your medical history, and thanks to recent advancements in healthcare, it's getting there. Here's how you can collect your files, plus three great ways to keep track of them for good. 

Watch this: AI in Healthcare: The future of medicine

How to get your hands on old medical records

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you'll probably have to make some phone calls. If you're lucky, you may get away with firing off a few quick emails or logging into old patient portals. The process really depends on the institutions you're after, and most places still employ some pretty archaic practices. 

Much of the difficulty stems from state and federal privacy laws that protect patients' information, so if your old doctor's office is being stingy, you can at least be confident that they're HIPAA-compliant.  

Try these tips to get started: 

1. First things first, find the website for the institution you need records from. Most healthcare facilities offer instructions on their websites that tell patients how to go about accessing medical records. You can also search "get medical records from [clinic or hospital name]" which should bring up results for the correct page. 

2. If there's a patient portal, count your blessings. This means you likely have records at your fingertips if you can remember (or easily reset) your portal username and password. Most patient portals include information such as test results, prior and current prescriptions, health histories, physical exams, and more. If you don't see "patient portal" on the website, look for "personal health record" or "PHR."

3. If there's no patient portal, check the contact page on the website. Chances are, there's a phone number or email address dedicated to inquiries about medical records, prescriptions and things of the like. Call that number and ask what you need to do to obtain your complete record from that facility. If there's no dedicated contact information, call the main line or front desk. 

To make things smoother going forward, always ask for your records before moving states, switching doctors, or otherwise making changes to your current healthcare providers. 


These days, most healthcare facilities provide digital records upon request, but some still use hard copies. This will affect how quickly you can receive your records, so be sure to ask about format when you request them. 

Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

What to do if your doctor refuses to provide records

If a healthcare provider is denying you records, ask why before assuming they owe you all records -- because they don't. Under federal law, there are a few instances in which healthcare providers can refuse to produce records, including, but not limited to: 

  • Records that put your life or health at risk 
  • Records compiled for a lawsuit
  • Records that breach the confidentiality of a third party who is mentioned in the records
  • Records that are part of ongoing research that is not complete

Also, some states have shorter storage time requirements than other states, so your records might just be gone. For example, depending on the state, pediatricians must keep a child's records for three to 10 years after the age of 18 or 21. That means some pediatricians can get rid of files as soon as their patients turn 21, while some may keep records until patients turn 31.  

Learn more about reasonably withheld records. 

If you feel that an institution is unfairly withholding records, you can file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services. Just be sure to do so within 180 days of the initial denial.

How to keep track once you have them

After retrieving your medical records, you should store them carefully and securely so they're always on-hand in the future. Here are three ways to do so. 

Utilize a membership model for primary care

New primary care models that involve memberships, like those of Forward Health, Parsley Health and One Medical, will ask you for medical records when you sign up to start receiving care. They'll compile all of your past information in your new patient file, which will continue to accumulate data as you use the service. Each company has an app that allows patients to easily access files. 

Some telehealth companies, like SteadyMD and K Health, also offer programs that allow you to upload medical records and view them on their respective apps. 

Primary care and telemedicine companies typically don't include services like dental care or gynecologic care, so you'll probably need to store those and other records from specialists separately. 


Not only do membership-model primary care clinics provide a great way to keep track of your records (old and new), most focus on an overall pleasant experience for patients. This is the entryway to the Parsley Center in NYC. 

Parsley Health

Try out a secure app 

If you don't want to or can't enroll in membership-based primary care, you can choose from several apps that allow you to securely upload, store and manage your medical records. 

Wanngi not only allows you to upload medical documents, but also allows you to track injuries and symptoms, keep track of medications and immunizations, add your family's records and even track fitness. 

My Medical stores health histories for as many people as you want and offers a helpful auto-complete search function. It also allows you to create visual charts for test results so you can easily look back on things like blood pressure readings. 

Apple's Health app has a Health Records feature that allows you to sign into participating health organizations, via the institution's patient portal, so you can see information from different health systems. Additionally, the Health Records feature can create a PDF of information you can share with your doctor.

Hixny allows your doctors themselves to upload your records to the app, where you and all of your provides who have consented to the app can share your files with each other. 

Before using any app, make sure to read (actually read -- not blindly scroll through) the terms and conditions. These apps should promise to keep your information secure and private and be 100% HIPAA-compliant. 


Secure and HIPAA-compliant apps like Wanngi offer a convenient way to keep medical records organized and on-hand. 

Wanngi / App Store

Store them manually

This might not be the easiest way to manage your medical records, but it's definitely reliable. These days, most institutions provide medical records digitally, but you might receive a hard-copy file. 

Work out a filing system that works for you, whether that's digital or on paper. Whatever you choose, make sure your records are secure but easily accessible for you. Perhaps store them in a filing cabinet with a lock, in a password-protected folder on your computer, or on an external hard drive. 

To be extra safe and avoid mishaps in the future, I recommend storing your records manually even if you enroll in membership-based primary care or use an app. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.