Medical Records Requests: What to Expect
Whether you are looking to collect your medical records to switch doctors, get a second opinion, or to keep your own records, the process can be rather long and cumbersome. Records collection processes can vary drastically depending on the institution you are collecting from and the types of records you are seeking. Every institution has different processes, different request forms, and even different departments charged with record collection. This blog is meant to highlight the most common methods and hurdles we have found in the record collection process, it is by no means an exhaustive list and is only meant to introduce you to this process.
What is the Process Like?
As previously mentioned, the process of collecting records varies from institution to institution. However, the bare bones of record collection will often look like this:
*if images are required you will most likely be required to request from the image management department.
To date, the most common way of requesting and receiving medical records is via fax or mail. However, in recent years we have seen a lot of institutions moving towards electronic requests. While leveraging technology can help streamline the collection process, online records often do not include medical images (especially high-resolution images like pathology), so make sure to check with your institution prior to starting the online records collection process.
All in all, you can expect the process (from request to record aggregation and shipping) to last anywhere from 7 days to 29 days. Make sure to keep an eye on federal holidays, as they tend to increase the wait time.
Roadblocks to Expect
If you are seeking to collect records from a hospital, it is best to prepare yourself for some of the hurdles you will undoubtedly encounter. If your request is urgent, make sure you get started right away, as this process is long and complicated. Read below to learn what to expect as you get started with your record collection.
Finding the right department to talk to
One of the problems you might run into early on is figuring out which department you need to get in contact with to request your records. Different institutions call their record collection departments different things but try searching for departments similar to Record Request, Record Collection, or Hospital Information Management.
It is common to get in touch with the wrong person (ie. cannot sign the release form) multiple times as you seek the correct department. When this happens, make sure to ask who the right person is and get their contact information before hanging up. Sometimes they can even transfer you to the correct person.
Some institutions opt for outsourcing their record aggregation department, so be prepared to speak with people that work outside of your hospital and who might not have much insight into internal hospital operations.
It will be time-consuming
Once you have found the department you need to speak with, your best bet is to call them. Even if you can start the process online, calling the department can be the most effective way to ensure that your request gets through and to keep track of the process. This step can often require that you call your institution multiple times.
It is very common for no one to pick up and for your voicemails to go unanswered. To try and avoid this, research the operating hours of the department before you try calling and make sure to avoid lunchtime hours.
When you do get through to a person, be prepared to be put on hold, sometimes for up to 30 minutes. Internal record systems are complicated and it can take the employee who is helping you time to find what you are asking for. Be patient and make sure to make these calls with plenty of time to spare.
Lastly, sometimes getting through on the phone is simply unfeasible. If it gets to that point, you might be left with no choice but to go to the hospital in person. This will most likely require taking the day off work- the amount of time it will take to get your records in person can vary drastically.
You will need access to a phone and internet
Some hospitals have adopted online record request forms or will have recorded automated messages with record collection instructions. Either of these remote processes will require an internet connection and access to a phone, a computer, and sometimes even a fax machine.
If you are somewhere with a spotty internet connection, we recommend going somewhere you can connect to fast speed internet, like the library or a coffee shop. Make sure you have proper phone service. If you are required to fax paperwork, ask the hospital if they have any alternatives or search for mobile faxing apps that can help you streamline the process from your smartphone.
Be prepared to be kept in the dark throughout the collection process. Some departments may not have a notification system in place, leaving you unsure about the status of your request.
It is common practice for record collection departments to input a request into their system, which can take time, and does not always include sending out a confirmation message. If you call to check in on the status of your request, it is possible the request simply has not been loaded into the system and you may be told the wrong status of your request.
As mentioned previously, record request/ collection departments don’t always work with images and they may not communicate that on their website. Make sure to check in with the department at your hospital and ensure they work with images before starting this process so you are not blindsided later on.
Additional hurdles: requesting on behalf of someone else
You can request medical records on behalf of someone else, like your partner or child, but be prepared to hit additional roadblocks.
Hospitals have extensive security measures in place that prohibit you from just walking up and requesting another person's medical records. You and the person you are requesting on behalf of will most likely have to sign legal release documents. Likely, you both will be required to present legal identification, a signature, and bring in a witness to submit the request. These additional steps are time-consuming and require additional resources, make sure to check in on the process with your hospital before getting started.
Notably, the record collection process is complicated and tedious. It will take time, effort, and resources. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time, ask questions, write things down (especially confirmation numbers or request numbers), and be patient.