Dear Mr. Premack: I’ve had a difficult time communicating with my doctor. He has been treating me for a serious heart condition, but I feel neglected and ignored. I’ve decided to go to a different doctor, but their front office tells me that I’ll need to bring all my medical records to the first appointment. Since the first doctor has been such a poor communicator, can you tell me my legal rights in this situation so I’ll know what I can insist be done? – R. C.
The Texas Occupations Code specifically authorizes patients to obtain copies of their medical records. You can either ask for a copy for your own use, or ask that a copy be supplied to another doctor, a lawyer, or to another person of your choosing. If you are too ill to request the records yourself, then your agent appointed in your Medical Power of Attorney has legal authority to request, review and receive your medical or hospital records.
Texas law requires the doctor to release copies of your medical records when you submit a written request. In the written request, you must tell the doctor exactly which records you want. You must give a reason for the release, and must identify the person to whom the information is to be given.
To be certain the doctor gets your written request, you can send it by certified mail or you can hand deliver it to your doctor. The doctor does not have to honor a verbal request, but must honor your written request within 15 days of receipt. The only valid reason the doctor may have for refusing to release your records is if the doctor determines that access to the information would be harmful to your physical, mental, or emotional health.
Can the doctor legally charge you for the copies? Yes. According to the Texas Board of Medical Examiners’ rules, the doctor can charge a “reasonable cost-based fee,” which the Board sets as “no more than $25 for the first twenty pages and 50¢ per page for every copy thereafter.” Copies of films (x-rays) or other static diagnostic imaging studies (MRIs) can cost up to $8 per copy. The doctor can legally require that costs be paid prior to release of the information.
The information contained in your medical records must be released at your request, but the actual files belong to your doctor. Providing copies allows you to have the information, while allowing the originating doctor to keep the actual records. Additionally, most doctors want to keep records on their patients to protect themselves if a patient decides to sue the doctor at some future date.
Here are some tips to follow when you need to request copies of medical records from your physician:
Submit your request in writing along with a check for the fee the doctor’s office requests. To get an estimate of the fee, start with a phone call to the doctor’s office.
Remember to provide a complete address and zip code for the location where you wish to have the records sent.
If you have married or otherwise changed your name, remember to provide the former name as it appeared in your medical records.
If your name is fairly common (“Robert Rodriguez” appears in the San Antonio phonebook 64 times and “Mary Smith” appears in the Houston phone book 71 times) then include with your request your date of birth or your social security number to ensure proper identification.
Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney practicing estate planning and probate law in San Antonio.
Original Publication: San Antonio Express News, April 2, 2012