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Know Your Medical Records, Know Your Rights: A Comprehensive Guide to Accessing and Understanding Them

Having access to your own medical records is a crucial part of taking an active role in your healthcare.

Being able to view your records allows you to better understand your health conditions, spot potential errors, and make more informed decisions about your care.

This article will provide an overview of patients’ rights to access their records, how to obtain copies of your records, what to do if you find mistakes, and why it’s so important to take advantage of your right to access this information.

Can I See My Medical Records?

In most countries, including the G7 nations, patients have a legally protected right to access their medical records. This ensures you are able to get copies of your records from any healthcare provider you’ve seen.

In the United States, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) enforces patients’ rights to access their medical records. Under HIPAA, providers are required to provide you with access to your records within 30 days of receiving your request.

There are a few exceptions. For example, psychotherapy notes can sometimes be restricted from patient access. However, this exclusion is narrow, and you are still entitled to the rest of your medical records.

How Do I Access My Medical Records?

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To obtain copies of your records, you’ll need to contact your healthcare providers directly. Exact procedures vary, but here are the typical steps:

  • Contact the records department or health information management office of each provider. This information should be available on their website or by phone.
  • Ask about their specific process and any forms you need to fill out. There may be different procedures for paper vs. electronic records.
  • Expect a response within 30 days. Some providers may charge fees, which are usually capped by law.
  • Records can be provided digitally through a patient portal or on a mailed storage device, or as printed copies.

Many healthcare systems now use electronic health records (EHRs). This can make accessing your up-to-date records much easier through secure online patient portals. However, providers are still required to provide you with paper copies if requested.

How Can I Get Copies of My Records for Personal Use or Transfer?

You have a right to get copies of your medical records for your personal use, to share with others, or to transfer to a new healthcare provider. You can obtain these copies on paper or digitally.

There may be administrative fees involved with copying records, but your provider cannot deny your access to records if you haven’t paid your medical bills.

The process for releasing records directly to another provider is slightly different than obtaining copies for yourself. Be sure to specifically request that a copy or your complete records be transferred directly to your new provider to avoid any gaps in care.

What If I Find Errors in My Medical Records?

If you find concerning errors, inaccuracies, or omissions in your medical records, you have a right to request corrections or amendments. This process includes:

  • Contact the provider’s records department and ask about their amendment request process. There may be a specific form involved.
  • Clearly describe the information you believe is incorrect and your proposed correction. Some factual errors like names, dates, medications, etc. can usually be updated.
  • The provider then must respond to your request within 60 days. They can request one 30-day extension if needed.
  • If your request is denied, you have the right to submit a statement disputing the provider’s version. This will be added to your record.
  • Be proactive in checking records at new providers to ensure the correct information appears in all your records.

Why Should I Access and Review My Medical Records?

There are many benefits to taking an active role in managing your health records:

  • Better understand your health conditions and treatment plans: Reading your medical records helps you understand what is happening with your health in your own words.
  • Improve communication with your healthcare providers: Reviewing your records facilitates better discussion at appointments.
  • Catch potential errors or inconsistencies: Errors could negatively impact your care, so identifying and correcting them is crucial.
  • Make more informed healthcare choices: Understanding your records puts you in a better position to make healthcare decisions right for you.
  • Advocate for your care: Thoroughly knowing your case helps you advocate for the care you need.

Additional Considerations

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  • Security: Providers implement security measures to protect your records. However, you’re responsible for keeping printed copies secure, using password protections if storing digital copies, and being careful when sharing records.
  • Specific circumstances: The process may be different when requesting records for a deceased relative or as a legal representative. Always check requirements.
  • Ask questions: Don’t hesitate to contact your providers for clarification if any part of requesting or understanding your records is unclear!


Accessing and reviewing your medical records ensures you can take charge of your healthcare journey. While specifics vary, you are entitled to copies of your records from any provider you’ve seen.

Don’t hesitate to exercise your right to access, inspect, and request corrections to your health information. Your complete records support you in making informed healthcare choices and getting the best care possible.

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