By Michael Warren
One way or another, there exists, somewhere, an extensive record of your financial history, available to others who need to “check you out.”
Similarly, as long as you were born in a hospital, your medical biography is already a matter of record even if you’ve never been sick, never visited a doctor or never been hospitalized since mommy first brought you home. If you’ve received health care anywhere, your medical record has expanded and is probably more detailed than you imagine.
Medical records are vitally important to doctors and patients, if the best possible care is to be given and received. For decades, they were closely guarded secrets, to be viewed only by your doctor or other legally authorized health care professionals.
However, your health care records are yours, and you have the right to see them, to request copies of them or to have the information they contain transferred from one health care provider to another.
Rarely do patients need to know every detail of their medical records, and to request so much information for no other reason than personal curiosity will cause extra work for someone in your doctor’s office. I hope that you and your doctor have a trusting, honest relationship, such that you are confident that pertinent information will be shared with you.
Nevertheless, you do have a right to your medical records and, sometimes, access to that information is necessary. Usually, this situation will arise when you change doctors or seek treatment at a different clinic or hospital. For instance, when relocating to another town, it is extremely important for you to arrange for the transfer of your medical records to your new health care provider.
Be sure to take care of these arrangements before your move. Visit your doctor’s office and request the records be given to you or sent directly to your new physician. Forms will have to be signed authorizing the release of these documents. Your medical record is confidential and only you can give permission for it to be shared with another party.
The transfer of records is an accepted practice in the medical profession. Physicians understand fully the need to know their patients’ medical biography and no one will be offended by your request. Keep in mind that it is also your right, for whatever reason, to switch to an alternate health care provider whose job should not be hampered by a lack of information.
Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.