Getting Your Medical Record Is a Cinch

Getting Your Medical Record Is a Cinch

Change happens all the time -- in the medical profession and in your own life. Perhaps a great job opportunity requires a cross-country move. Or maybe the doctor you’ve seen for years closes his or her practice, or dies. Can you still get your medical records, or is that valuable information lost forever? The answer is you can, and it’s probably easier than you think.

Find top doctors in your local health network with this simple tool -- and get better care. 

When doctors go out of business
Say you need to access your medical records from a doctor who treated you in the past, but now you can't pin down their location. Or maybe he or she decided to retire. Whatever the case may be, your doctor must plan ahead to make your records available (including immunization records for children) for a specific amount of time as required by law. This time can vary from state to state, but often is seven to 10 years from the date of your last visit (or until a child reaches the age of 21).

Doctors who are closing practice will usually place advertisements in the local newspaper or contact patients to notify them. They may also be required to provide the local public health department with information on how former patients can access their records. And if a doctor dies, his or her estate must maintain the records for a set period of time. Your local health department is a great place to start to find out the requirements in your state and begin tracking down your files.

Other resources that can help you locate your records include:

  • Any partner doctors who practiced with your former physician
  • Nearby hospitals where your doctor practiced
  • Your local or state medical society
  • Other practices in the area in the same specialty as your doctor

Moving your records to a new doctor
If you move away or change doctors, don’t leave your medical records behind. Transferring them to your new provider is a breeze.

If you choose your new doctor before your move, simply ask your current doctor to send your health record to your new provider as soon as you can. Keep in mind that your doctor may ask for this request in writing, too. Electronic medical record systems make this exchange seamless, but at present, many offices still send records by mail or fax.

Don't know yet where you'll be getting care in your new state? Don't sweat it! Once you've selected your new provider, visit their office and sign an authorization form that allows them access to your health information. They'll send that form to your previous provider's office asking for copies of your records.

Your other option is to get paper copies of your health record from your current provider before you move. Then you can bring them with you to your new provider whenever you're ready. But keep in mind that some offices may charge a fee to copy your records.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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