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In an episode of Seinfeld, the character Elaine Benes visits her doctor. She sneaks a peak at her chart, only to find that she’s been labeled as difficult. She attempts to find a new doctor, but her chart follows her to every new doctor. She never has control of her own information.

While you might not be chasing your medical records for the same reason Elaine Benes is, it does beg the question, “Who do your medical records belong to?”

The laws surrounding your medical records differ from state to state. Of the 50 states, 22 states have a law for medical record ownership. Of these 22 states, only one state (New Hampshire) has a law that states patients own the information in medical records.

That leaves 21 states who have a law giving hospitals and physicians ownership of patient medical records. The remaining 28 states do not have a specific law that identifies ownership of medical records.

Who Owns My Medical Records in California?

The state of California is one of the states that clearly states a patient’s medical records belong to the hospital and/or physician. California law requires medical records for hospital patients be kept for at least seven years. These health records must be authorized by licensed health care professional.

Nursing facilities in California are also required to keep records of patients for seven years after they’ve been discharged from the facility. Should the patient be under the age of 18, then records must be kept for one year after their 18th birthday.

Unlike other states, California doesn’t have specific requirements for doctors when it comes to keeping records. There are requirements for providers that accept Medi-Cal. Records must be maintained and kept for a minimum of five years.

If I Don’t Own My Medical Records, Can I Access Them?

It’s clear that patients do not own their medical records in the state of California. But does that mean you never have access to them? No, but it will take some work on your part.

According to the federal law, HIPAA,  healthcare providers are obligated to allow you or a designated representative access to inspect your medical records. This must be done within five days of written request. You can also request a copy of your medical records, but this might come with an administrative fee, depending on your healthcare provider. 

If, for any reason, you were to come across inaccuracies in your medical records upon inspection, then you have the right to add a written addendum to your record.

How Do I Access My Medical Records?

The process of obtaining your medical records is similar across all healthcare providers. You’ll need to visit the health information management department or a similarly named department. If your doctor’s office is small, someone from the administrative desk will be able to help you.

Then you’ll need to fill out a patient authorization form, giving your healthcare provider the right to release your medical records. The reason for this is patient security. HIPAA not only gives you access to your medical records, but it provides individuals assurances that their medical data will be kept safe. No written and signed authorization, no chance you’ll be getting your medical records. It might be inconvenient, but it’s for your protection.

As we move into a more digital world, select healthcare providers offer web access with a secure portal. You’ll need to give them written consent, complete with your signature, to create a web-based account. But after that, accessing your records will be just like signing into your Facebook account.

Check with your healthcare provider if you’d like specific confirmation as to who owns your medical records. But whether or not your healthcare provider owns the records, you have rights to them and can access them.

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