November 16, 2019

Access to Your Medical Records: You are Entitled to Receive a Copy of Your Medical Records. It’s the Law.

Patient Access to Medical Records

Access to your medical records:  Know your rights!

So this autumn, I’ve had a mind numbing, time wasting, stressful, and beyond frustrating experience dealing with a new specialist doctor.  A doctor who, as I learned after immediately experiencing insurance billing and many other problems with the doctor’s practice, is not a member of John Muir Medical Group.  John Muir otherwise provides all of our primary, other specialty, urgent, emergency, and hospitalization care.

I’ll just say one thing:  If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, don’t ever … ever … EVER … get care from any physician or facility associated with Hills Physicians Medical Group in San Ramon, California.  Which brings me to the topic of this blog post, one of likely several I’ll have from my dealings with this organization:  A Patient’s Access to His or Her Medical Records.

The doctor we were referred to, a Gastroenterologist located in Pleasant Hill, CA, and Brentwood, CA, has an office with procedures that do not comply with HIPPA.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, is a federal health care law originally signed into law on August 21, 1996 and revised a number of times since then.  It is a positive and much needed law for the health care consumer.  Among other things, HIPPA strengthened privacy laws related to patient health records, and provided that a patient has a legal right to his or her medical records.

Anyhoo, dealing with this new physician, we were able to quickly get an appointment for an initial consultation, followed by one of two tests/procedures that were required.  The initial consultation went fine.  And then, well, everything else went downhill faster than an Alpine skier on an icy course.  Or maybe a turd rolling downhill.

Shortly after the initial consultation, a test was performed in the physician’s office.  We waited for a few days to get a phone call with the test results.  Nothing.  I checked our very handy and thorough electronic chart on the John Muir Health Care website.  Nothing.  That’s when I learned that the physician was not affiliated with John Muir, but rather Hills Physicians Medical Group.  A Medical Group so outdated in technology that it does not have a website enabling patients to create an account and have access to all medical records, test results,  appointment notes/information, appointment reminders, as well as a secure email-like system for communication with any doctors and their staff.  John Muir has all of this, and it works great!

So, after a couple of weeks went by, growing ever anxious, we contacted the new physician’s office, and requested a copy of the test results.  We also requested the results via email.  What were we told?  Well, we were told that we had to make an appointment with the doctor so that he could go over the test results, that otherwise nothing would be released to us.  In other words, just another appointment so the doctor can bill.  When we informed the staff person that patient records were required by law to be released to the patient, the staff person told us “it is not our policy” to do that.

When we informed the staff person that their “policy” was in violation of HIPPA rules, her response was that she would send a message to the doctor.  The doctor did call us back and informed us that the test results were negative.  But we’ve never received the written copy of the test results we requested multiple times.  And for a medical test completed and paid for.

So here’s the deal:  Patients, and a patient’ authorized representative, are entitled by law to receive a copy of their medical records.  (With one exception to the health care records:  a mental health care professional may withhold his or her notes if the professional feels providing the notes to the patient or the patient’s designated representative,  would be harmful to the patient.)  As previously mentioned, this federal law has been on the books since HIPPA was signed into law back in 1996, some 23 years ago.  The law further states that the physician cannot charge a ‘handling’ or ‘processing’ fee for providing the records, only ‘reasonable’ copy charges.  A patient also has a right to review his/her original medical file.  This review is usually done at the location the records are stored, such as the doctor’s office.

Simply put, it is beyond sad that a board certified physician's office is out of compliance with a 23 year old law.

Timeframe?  The physician must release a copy of medical records, or permit review of original medical records, within 30 days.  If longer than 30 days is needed, the physician must provide the patient with the reason for the delay, and the records must be released/review permitted within 60 days.

Any consequences for refusal to release patient medical records?  You betchya.  And the minimum fine for willful violations of HIPPA rules is $50,000.

So know your rights when it comes to your medical records and HIPPA.  Don’t be denied what is legally yours simply because of a doctor’s office illegal “policy”.

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About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA provides Tax Services, Insurance Consulting Services, Annuity Consulting Services, and Expert Witness Services to clients who typically have technical or complex concerns.  For more information visit

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