How to Access Electronic Health Records

It's not just the wise thing to do to check your medical records; it’s your right. It helps you review any data that might be important to your treatment or ask your doctor about missed or inaccurate medications or test results.

Traditionally, the primary care provider is keeping and preserving medical records. A shift has happened in previous years, which saw patients take responsibility for storing and managing their medical records.

You would need to take steps to request access and copies for yourself unless you are a member of a healthcare system where you have access to your electronic medical records ( EMR). Here’s how to access your electronic health records (EHR).

How to Access Electronic Health Records
Image Source: Harvard School of Public Health

Write a Letter Request

You can use the standard letter format as you sit down to write your request, with your details first specified (name, address, current date), followed by the healthcare provider's name or the healthcare facility with your medical records.

Add a salutation like "Dear Dr. Collins" or "Dear Center for Healthy Living.

Open the letter by indicating the intent of the letter. For instance, "This letter aims to request a copy of my medical records."

Indicate Dates of Treatment

Your healthcare provider is likely to have a lot of patients and will need the exact dates of your treatment for them to find your medical records.

For example, you can note: "I had been treated between [specify dates] at your office [or facility]. I would like to ask for copies of the following [or all] health documents relating to my treatment at your facility.

Specify The Type of Information You Need To Access

In your medical records, you can access various kinds of information, so be clear about that in your letter. Your health care provider will then, depending on your needs, provide specific medical reports or your full medical records.

The following information can be requested.

  • A summary of doctor's office visits
  • Specific diagnoses for an illness, an infection, a disorder, or a disease
  • Images such as X-rays or MRIs
  • Information on medication
  • Account and billing information
  • Doctors' notes
  • Laboratory results
How to Access Electronic Health Records
Image Source: ADS Data Systems

Decide How You Want To Receive Your EMR

Your EMR will usually be sent as paper copies. If you wish to receive your EMR in a different way, such as on a flash drive, through a web link, or on a CD-Rom, you should specify it in your request.

Your healthcare provider may not be able to handle how you receive your EMR and may only offer one option for your EMR to be received. Enclose a self-addressed, signed envelope if you want your records mailed to you.

Submit the Request to Your Health Provider's Office

When the letter is done, you can contact your healthcare provider’s office or the health facility that holds your medical records.

Send the letter to the person(s) required so it can be processed.

Pay for the Cost of Your Medical Records

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates that you should not be charged a fee by your healthcare provider for finding your medical records. However, to cover the cost of providing you access to your medical records, the healthcare provider will charge a fair, cost-based fee.

Bear in mind that the inability to pay for services provided by the healthcare system cannot make them refuse to give you a copy of your EMR, but they can withhold your copy if you do not pay the cost to access your records.

Final Words

Understanding what's in your medical records may be as critical as seeing a doctor. If your electronic health records are available to you, after each appointment or well-care visit, check it. When necessary, it helps you make corrections and respond more fully if and when medical care is required.