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Pile of medical records with stethoscope.As I prepare to move across the country, I have been trying to fit in a final visit with each of my critical doctors. I was hoping to be seen one last time to ensure that I have adequate prescription supplies and can bridge the gap in care while finding new doctors. Some offices are capable of accommodating such a request on short notice, and some are definitely not (but come on, is six weeks really that short?). Regardless, I at least need to retrieve my medical records to bring along to the new docs.

An unexpected complication has arisen in this process, however. At the offices I’ve contacted so far, they are happy to forward the records for free to my new doctor, if I send the request through that new office (which is pretty much the most complicated possible solution)... but they’ll charge me a per-page fee for the copies if I pick them up myself (which is most certainly the simplest solution, for all parties involved).

There are many things wrong with this picture. First of all, what difference should it make whom they’re delivered to? It costs the same to make the copies either way, but it should actually be cheaper to hand them to me rather than shipping them to the new office. Secondly, I would much rather have my records available to my new doctor on the first visit so I don’t waste that appointment doing release paperwork instead of getting actual care. Furthermore, I may or may not choose to stay with the first doctor I try in the new city, so I’d like the records to travel with me. Finally, and most importantly, didn’t I pay for my medical care (including documentation thereof) through insurance benefits, co-pays, and cash payments? It seems to me I should even be able to take the originals if I wanted. Perhaps I should charge them a fee if they want to keep a copy of my records.

This all brings up the critical question of who actually owns medical records. I am sure there are legal definitions and professional opinions on the matter, but the practical issue prevails in my mind. That is information they are holding about us. Aren’t we, as patients, entitled to some claim on that data? Unfortunately it seems that, with all the HIPAA privacy releases we are asked to sign, apparently almost everybody has easy access to our health records—except us.

That said, I’m going to get the records myself regardless of whether I have to pay for them or not. It’s probably not even worth fighting to get them for free, because it’s not actually that expensive when you put it in perspective. Even at 25¢ per page, I can afford a lot of copies for the price of that copay I’d have wasted on the new doc’s first appointment, which would otherwise be useless without the records (never mind the wasted time).

What troubles me more than the cost is the underlying theme of this situation. By acting as though we’re not entitled to access our own medical records, the medical establishment sends a message that we have no business participating in our own care. This is the worst part of all.

But that’s not how is has to be, and we don’t have to fall for it. It’s ok to stand up for what you want and need as a patient. It’s a good thing to involve yourself in your healthcare—in this and many other ways. And you have every right to do so. It might not always be as easy or as sensible as it should, but if we don’t try then we aren’t likely to get our needs met. For better or worse, it’s up to us to ensure that happens.

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Tags: Advocacy (Making a Difference)

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.

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