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Protecting Your Privacy & Security

Accessing Your Health Information

Your rights and your provider's responsibilities

You have the right to receive copies of your health information from your doctor and from other providers, such as physical therapists and social workers. If your health care provider keeps your records electronically, you have a right to receive them in either electronic or paper form.

Depending on your doctor's or hospital's policies, you may have to make requests for health information in writing, and you may be asked to pay a small fee to cover your doctor's costs for furnishing you with the information. Many health care providers — particularly those still using paper-based systems — may not have all of your records available immediately, so it might take them a while to fulfill your request.

Finally, in some limited circumstances, your doctor may refuse to comply with your request. In such cases, they must supply an explanation in writing.

Making your request

For each provider from whom you wish to receive records, prepare to make your request by writing down what information you want and how you would like to receive it. Think about the following questions:

  • Are you looking for all the information your provider has about you, or for specific information about, for example, a particular condition or office visit?
  • What type of information are you looking for? You can ask for any or all types of information in your medical records, including:
    • summary of the office visit,
    • diagnoses,
    • doctors' notes,
    • laboratory results,
    • medication information,
    • images (X-rays, MRIs, etc.); and
    • account and billing information.
  • Do you want your records on paper or electronically (if available)? If you want them electronically, how do you want to receive them (via the web, on a flash drive, on a CD, etc.)? Note that your provider may not be able to support your preferred format.

Once you know what you're looking for, contact your health care provider's office to find out how to submit your request. In some cases, your doctor may provide instructions for requesting your records on his or her practice web site or in a handout about privacy policies. 

If you do not receive your information in a timely manner, follow up with your provider's office. If you feel your request is still not being handled properly, you can register a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Civil Rights.

Last updated: Wednesday, June 26, 2013