When I moved cross-country, the last thing on my mind was collecting and organizing my health records -- until I needed to see variousin 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.