Trying to find a new doctor for you and your family before you relocate can be a time-consuming endeavor. And once you find a new physician, you have the added task of transferring your medical records.
Don't let obtaining your records become a complicated process. Get familiar with some common questions before you begin.
Find out if you will be charged for your medical records when moving
Your previous medical provider is not permitted to charge you a fee for sending your medical records to a new healthcare specialist. It is common, however, for them to charge a fee when sending the records to you directly. HIPAA regulates how much you can be charged for transferring medical records.
If you are obtaining a personal copy of your records, then your current doctor does have the right to charge a "reasonable" cost-based fee. These fees vary from state to state and cover:
- Printing the medical records
- The labor required to get the records to you
- Postage costs (if applicable)
- Extra fees for electronic versions of the records
For example, in North Carolina, the cost may be .75 cents per page for the first 25 pages and .50 cents for every page after that. In Ohio, the cost is $2.50 per page for the first 10 pages and .50 per page from 11 to 50 pages. Check with your state's medical board to find out specific details. If you are transferring your medical records to a new physician, your current doctor may consider this a "professional courtesy" at no cost to you, but this isn't always the case.
Only medical records are figured into these prices. A digital copy of other things (like an MRI) will require a separate fee. Your doctor or facility should be able to provide you with specifics.
Do my medical records belong to me? Medical records are not the patient's property but the property of the doctor or physician who prepares them. However, based on the HIPAA law, you have a right to see your medical records and obtain copies of them. If your doctor refuses to release your records, you can file a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
Find a new doctor so you can schedule the record transfer
If your insurance hasn't changed after you've moved, locate a medical provider through your insurance provider's website. Another way to locate a medical professional is through a referral from your previous physician or friends and family in the area.
Ideally, you will want your medical records to be transferred to your new physician's office prior to your first visit. Processing copies of records should generally not take more than two weeks (unless other circumstances prohibit expediting your request). If you prefer, you can obtain a hard copy for yourself even before you select a new doctor, and hand the documents over to your new doctor when you arrive.
What forms do I need to fill out? You will need to give authorization to transfer your medical records. You can write your own letter or form to send to your current physician, but be sure to include your name, address, social security number, date of birth and statement that you are authorizing your records for release. Indicate if the records need to be transferred to your new physician and provide the address and telephone number of the office. Talk to your current provider to see if you should mail, fax or hand in the request in person.
The guidelines set forth through HIPAA, in conjunction with any medical release forms that you have or haven't signed, can influence your ability to transfer your medical records. Your previous medical provider should be able to e-mail, fax or physically mail a medical release form if you haven't already signed one.
Some medical providers require patients to sign a release form if they want to transfer their medical records. Since most transfer requests need to be made by telephone, you should speak to your old medical provider. For children under the age of 18, a legal guardian must sign the form to have their records released.
Understand how the HIPAA affects the transfer of medical records
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is designed to protect insurance coverage and standardize the electronic transmission of medical records. Through HIPAA, Congress also wanted to address consumers' concerns about the privacy and security of personal health data. The HIPAA is divided into two different sections:
- Title 1: Under federal law, you have some health insurance protection for you and your family members. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services website, title 1 of HIPAA "regulates the availability and breadth of group health plans and certain individual health insurance polices."
- Title 2: Based on consumers' concerns about protecting their health information, title 2 of HIPAA creates rules for standardizing how medical information will be distributed. Implementing standards for how medical data should be transmitted was accomplished through five rules:
- The Privacy Rule
- The Transactions and Code Sets Rule
- The Security Rule
- The Unique Identifiers Rule
- The Enforcement Rule
The Privacy Rule has the most relevance for individuals who want to transfer their medical records to different medical providers.
Every state can establish laws that give you more privacy, but it cannot take away the rights given to you by HIPAA. The Act gives everyone in the US the right to view and access their own medical records.
Even though the Privacy Rule allows you to see your own records, your previous medical provider may still require that you sign a medical release to transfer your records.
What happens if my current physician moves, retires or passes away?
If your doctor has relocated, retired or even passed away, your medical records will still be available at the practice, as long as it is still in operation.
- Request your medical records from the office of your previous physician.
- If another practice bought out your doctor's practice, you should still be able to obtain your records at this location.
- If your doctor's practice is no longer in operation, contact your local or state medical society to find out where the medical records are being stored. You will then need to follow specified protocol for obtaining a copy of these records.
After you move, you will probably want to transfer your medical records to new healthcare providers. Whether you request to have your records sent to either yourself or your new physician, be aware of your patient rights to ensure a smooth transition.