By Danielle Bradshaw from In the Cloud Copy.
Many of us probably don’t think too hard about our medical records on a day to day basis; which is fair – between actual doctor visits and the rest of our lives, it makes sense. As it turns out though, not having access to your medical files can become a real pain if you find yourself needing to see a doctor that isn’t your primary caregiver or you’re moving cross country – your files aren’t just going to go with you because you’ve got a new doctor or house.
Why Don’t Doctors Share Medical Records?
Although it would be nice, doctors don’t share files with each other unless you give your express permission for them to do so. For example, if you need to visit a dermatologist, you will be given a form to sign that allows your physician to share your records with said specialist. This isn’t a case of your doctor being difficult or stingy, but rather that they’re following the guidelines given to them by HIPPA.
What Is HIPPA?
HIPPA or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act essentially states that information can not be given unless the patient wants it to be shared with loved ones, caretakers, or other medical officials. The information can also be shared with whoever pays for your medical needs (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Veterans Affairs, or insurance companies) as well as state and federal government officials.
How to Get your Old Medical Records
The immediate thought most people reading this might be to use the internet to access a digital version of their medical files. Unfortunately, many medical institutions are still incredibly low-tech, meaning that you’re likely going to have to make quite a few calls. If they do have a patient portal, you’ve lucked out, as you can simply log in to the portal and access your test results, what prescriptions your taking, your physical exam results, and much more.
Even if the doctor’s office doesn’t have a patient portal, the website itself is still useful. It may provide information on alternative means by which you can get your medical files. Barring that, it should, at the very least, have the number of the office or an email address that you can use to contact them. In the future, ask for your records before making any big (or reasonably significant) changes to your life like a move to another area or switching doctors.
Your Doctor May Not Be Able to Provide You with Records
Although HIPPA says that you do have a right to your medical records, there may be situations that override HIPPA stipulations and prevent your doctor(s) from giving them to you. If the records in question can put you or your health at risk, can breach a third party’s confidentiality, are a part of ongoing, incomplete research, or have been put together for a lawsuit; you aren’t getting them.
There may also be the issue of how long some states keep medical records to contend with too. Many states only hold on to records anywhere from three to 10 years after the patient has turned 18 or 21 years of age. That means that after 21 (or 31, depending on the state), your records might have been disposed of.
How to Keep Your Records Once You’ve Got Them
Once you get your hands on your records, there are plenty of ways that you can carefully store them:
- Use a primary care membership – There are a lot of primary care models nowadays that allow you to compile a set of your medical records with them when you initially sign up. They can assemble all of your old records and as you continue using their services, they can gather your newer records, as well. Such primary care models include One Medical and Forward Health.
There are also telehealth companies (companies that provide medical care via online chat, texts, and video) that let you add your medical records on their apps for later viewing. Keep in mind though that primary care and telemedicine companies don’t have gynecological or dental care so those will require alternate means for you to store those records.
- Try an app – Applications are a viable way to keep your medical records on file if you don’t want/can’t get membership-based primary care. Wanngi, for example, lets you upload medical records and track symptoms and injuries. Patients can also keep up with their immunizations, medications, and even their family members’ records.
- Store them manually – While there are many places that offer digital files, it’s also entirely possible for you to get a hard-copy of your records. Once you have the files, you can either upload them onto your computer or an external hard drive. There’s also the old-fashioned method of keeping them as paperwork and storing them in a file cabinet.