Can I Get My Medical Records if a Doctor Moves Away?

Are you entitled to ask for your medical records when your doctor moves to another area and takes them with him?
– Dylan*

Yes. The law requires that doctors give patients copies of their medical records whenever they ask for them. (It's very rare, but a request for medical records can be denied — if this does happen, the doctor has to explain why.)

It's a really good idea to ask for copies of your medical records. Getting them now helps you in the long run: You never know when you'll need information about past medical care. For example, you might need to prove you've had certain immunizations in order to get a job or go to college.

If the office your doctor used to work at stayed in business when he moved away, contact the staff at that office. Your records should still be there. But if your doctor closed the office when he moved, you'll need to call his new office to ask for your records.

You'll probably need to pay a fee to cover the cost of making copies. Most doctors won't give you the originals because they need to keep records of your treatment. It's worth the cost, though, so you don't lose track of important health information.

Before you get your records, you'll probably be asked for identification and a signature. This is to protect your privacy. If you can't pick the copies up in person, you may have to pay for the office to mail the records to you. A doctor's office generally has 30 days to provide you with copies of your records once you ask for them. It's OK to call and ask when your records will be ready for pickup or when they will be sent.

Some doctors' offices are starting to keep their records electronically. You still have the right to ask for a copy of your medical record, even if it is stored electronically. With electronic records, the doctor's office may give you a printed copy or offer to give you the medical record on a CD (you'll likely still have to pay a small fee for this).

A few doctors and hospitals are starting to use online health records that patients can access from home. With these, patients can go in anytime they want and print out important parts of their chart. Eventually, having to pay and wait for records should become a thing of the past!

Reviewed by: Jeremy Michel, MD
Date reviewed: March 2011

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*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

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