A recent article in the New York Times raised the question of a patient’s right to obtain copies of their own medical records and the difficulty in doing so. Representing patients we have experienced the same frustration.

It would appear that everyone can get information from patient records except the patient. A few examples.

When you go to the drug store and use your credit card or the drug store card a profile is obtained. The store knows what prescription medications you are on and shares that data with the manufacturers of the product. They know if you buy hair coloring, diabetes medication and this shared data is then used to print out a receipt that is geared to your buying habits and allows the drug companies to selectively try to sell you product both directly and indirectly.

HIPPA is the acronym for the law that is supposed to insure patient privacy. It is used to permit access to the information to anyone that does not have a right to that information. Anyone, not a hospital employee or physician and their employees will be denied access to your information if they do not have your written consent or a Power of Attorney. So you could be denied access to information on your father if he were suddenly hospitalized, or a companion with whom you might have lived for 20 years. The strange thing is that you might be asked for your permission to do procedures but once the crisis is over, you would be denied a copy of the records.

You, the patient, goes to your physician’s office and asks for a copy of your record. The response: Why? There should be no question as to “Why”. You are entitled to a copy of your records. You will never get a copy at the time of the request. “I have to speak with the Doctor.”; It will take time to make copies, get back to us in a week.”; “We have been too busy to get them copied”. All of the excuses you can imagine are made in order to dissuade you from getting a copy.

The Response to Why: I feel that I want to keep track of what is going on with my health. The only way I know to do that is to have a complete copy of my records. Is the doctor against my helping myself to stay well? If the doctor is, perhaps I should be seeing another doctor, what do you think?

” I plan to see another doctor to get a second opinion. I will need a copy of my records for that visit.”

The bottom line is that you should have whatever documentation you need for a problem prior to the time it arises. The military always give soldiers a complete copy of the medical records because as they travel one site will not have access to prior records.

Health care proxies are very important if a loved one is in the need of care and they are available on line. Health care proxies might be slightly different from state to state but everyone should check on one and have them in the home in time of need. Power of attorney is another document that should be part of every family planning.

No one wants litigation but everyone wants optimum health care. The only way to achieve that goal is to prepare. One will never know when medical decisions have to be made nor under what conditions. Obtain a health care proxy, obtain a power of attorney. Keep copies of your medical records to that if you are away from home you can provide them to a physician when away. E.g. Is the electrocardiogram normal for this patient or is there a change. Carrying a copy of an ECG will help in time of emergency. Prepare in advance.

One final point. A recent study from Israel found that patients who went to hospital for emergency care for what turned out to be a stroke had better care and earlier diagnoses when they went to the hospital with another person. The other person was an advocate for earlier care and was better able to explain the problem.

1. Get your records to keep the power of your health in your hands.

2. Go to get treatment with a spouse or a friend. The outcomes will be better.
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