Smart Ways to Use Your Medical Records

Medically reviewed in January 2022

The same law that protects the privacy of your medical records, known as HIPAA, also gives you access to your medical records. That means you can request a copy of your medical record from your doctor or hospital—and you should. Here are smart ways to use your records.

Empower yourself to get better care
Whether you're suffering from a chronic condition, or a sudden medical issue crops up you've never had before, having your medical record in your possession can be a powerful tool. You can:

  • Better understand the tests or care you received
  • Add that information to your personal health record
  • Share your record with other health care providers
  • Avoid redundant tests and procedures
  • Determine if your happy with your provider’s care
  • Keep track of what preventive tests and procedures may be coming due
  • Use the information to research your health conditions online

However, be sure to err on the side of caution when you use your records for your own health research. Some experts believe that too much information can lead you to make self-diagnosis errors, setting you up for unnecessary anxiety and worry. If you have questions about your records or information you found online, your most reliable source for answers is your doctor.

Correct errors
Mistakes do show up in medical records sometimes. The doctor may accidentally enter one of your medication prescriptions incorrectly—the most common health record errors involve medication names or doses--or misunderstand part of your health history. Or your contact info or other personal details may not be up to date. Some experts even think that new electronic health records systems are making errors more common. Those errors can affect the quality of care you get later, so it’s wise to check your records carefully.

By law, you have the right to request corrections to your medical records (though you can’t have information deleted from them). Your provider may require that you submit your request in writing. Then, ask your provider how you should submit your corrections. For small errors, it may be enough to fax a copy of your record with your handwritten changes, while more complex issues may require a letter explaining the corrections needed.

Control your healthcare costs
One type of health record error (which, unfortunately, may be intentional) is incorrect billing charges. Your provider may simply enter the wrong billing code, or more worryingly, may charge you for services not done. That can cost you money if you’re paying out of pocket. And across the whole healthcare system, such mistakes can lead to higher insurance costs. Be sure to match the charges that appear on your medical bills with the services listed on your health records. If anything looks amiss, don’t be afraid to question it.

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