A Guide to Patient Requests for Medical Records

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How to Get Access to Your Health Information

Medical records are a crucial part of healthcare, holding essential details regarding a patient's medical history, diagnoses, treatment plans, prescribed medications, and test results. Patients have the legal right to access their medical records, which they may request for different reasons such as managing their health, seeking a second opinion, or transferring to a new healthcare provider. This article aims to provide comprehensive information on how patients can request their medical records.

Understanding Patient Requests for Medical Records

A formal request made by a patient or their authorized representative (e.g. legal guardian) to obtain copies of their medical records is known as a patient request for medical records. Under federal law, specifically the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and state laws, patients have the legal right to access their medical records. These laws aim to empower patients with control over their health information and enable them to make informed decisions about their healthcare.

What Information Must Be Provided When a Patient Requests Medical Records?

To request medical records, patients must provide certain information to their healthcare provider or the third-party entity that holds their records. This information includes:

Can a Patient Get Their Medical Records at Any Time?

Yes, patients can request their medical records at any time. However, healthcare providers may have specific hours or procedures for processing requests.

How to Request Medical Records from Your Healthcare Provider

doctor and patient discusss health concerns

Patients can request their medical records from their healthcare provider by submitting a written request (e.g., letter, email) or completing a request form provided by the healthcare provider. Some healthcare providers may also allow patients to request records online through a patient portal. Patients should contact their healthcare provider for specific instructions on how to request medical records.

Steps on How to Get a Digital Copy of Your Medical Records from a Hospital System

Patients can request a digital copy of their medical records from a hospital system by contacting the hospital's medical records department or health information management (HIM) department. Patients may be required to complete a request form and provide proof of identity. Hospitals may charge a fee for providing digital copies of medical records. 

Patients can also request digital copies of their medical records, however, healthcare providers are not required to comply with this request if they believe it is not secure or could compromise patient privacy.

1. Contact your healthcare provider

Reach out to your healthcare provider by phone, email, or in person and ask how you can request a copy of your medical records. Make sure to have your personal information and the specific records you want to access ready.

2. Obtain a request form

Some healthcare providers may require you to complete a request form. If so, ask your provider for a copy of the form or check if it's available on their website.

3. Complete the form

If you are required to complete a request form, fill out all the necessary fields, including your personal information, the specific records you want to access, and the purpose of the request.

4. Provide proof of identity

Healthcare providers may require you to provide proof of identity, such as a government-issued ID, to ensure that your medical records are being released to the correct person.

5. Submit the request

Once you have completed the form and provided any necessary documentation, submit your request to your healthcare provider. You can submit the request in person, by mail, or online through a patient portal (if available).

6. Follow up

After submitting your request, follow up with your healthcare provider to ensure that they received it and are processing it in a timely manner. You can also ask for an estimated timeline for when you can expect to receive the records.

Patient Medical Records Request Form for Primary Care

The process for requesting patient records from a primary care provider is generally similar to that of requesting records from a hospital system, with differences in terms of policies and the records available.

  • Primary care providers may have different policies or procedures for handling requests compared to hospitals. They may require patients to complete a request form or may only accept requests in person or by mail.
  • The types of records available may vary depending on the healthcare provider and the services they offer. A primary care provider may only have records related to office visits and basic medical history.

Who Can Request Medical Records for a Patient?

Patients can request their own medical records, or they can authorize someone else to request them on their behalf, making them a "personal representative". The authorized representative must provide proof of authorization (e.g., power of attorney, court order) and proof of identity.

Naming a Personal Representative for the Children and Deceased

When a patient is unable to request their own medical records, such as in the case of a child or a deceased individual, it may be necessary to name a personal representative to make the request on their behalf. 

For children, parents or legal guardians are typically considered the personal representative and can request medical records on behalf of the child. They may be required to provide proof of guardianship or custody.

In the case of a deceased individual, the personal representative is typically the executor or administrator of the estate. They may need to provide documentation such as a death certificate, a copy of the will, or letters of administration to prove their authority to act as the personal representative.

How Long Does It Take to Pull Patient Records?

The time it takes to pull patient records varies depending on the healthcare provider and the volume of records requested. Healthcare providers are required to respond to patient requests for medical records within 30 days of receiving the request, but patients can request an expedited response if they need the records sooner than 30 days for urgent medical treatment or other legitimate reasons.

In case of delay, patients can follow up with the provider's medical records department or file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. 

How to Handle Patient Requests for Medical Records: Tips for Healthcare Providers

Healthcare providers can ensure that patient requests for medical records are handled efficiently, accurately, and in compliance with state and federal laws by following these tips:

Establish clear policies and proceduresThis includes outlining the steps patients need to take to request records, the documentation that may be required, and the fees associated with providing records.
Provide patients with request forms and instructionsThis can help ensure that patients provide all the necessary information and can help streamline the request process.
Train staff on how to handle requestsStaff should be aware of the policies and procedures for processing requests, the forms and documentation that may be required, and the fees associated with providing records.
Protect patient privacyThis includes verifying the identity of the person making the request, ensuring that records are only released to authorized individuals, and using secure methods to transmit records.
Respond to requests in a timely mannerHealthcare providers are required to respond to patient requests for medical records within 30 days of receiving the request. However, healthcare providers should strive to respond as quickly as possible to ensure that patients have timely access to their medical records.
Communicate clearly with patientsThis includes providing updates on the status of the request, notifying patients of any delays or issues, and answering any questions or concerns that patients may have.


Patient requests for medical records are an important aspect of healthcare, allowing patients to take control of their health information and make informed decisions about their healthcare. Patients have a right to access their medical records and can request them from their healthcare providers or third-party entities. By understanding the process for requesting medical records, patients can stay informed and empowered about their healthcare.

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