Getting Your Medical Records

medical records wide viewIn Massachusetts and most other states, you have the right to get copies of your medical and hospital records.  In theory, the process is simple: just make a written request to your doctor, hospital, or other health care provider.  Include your name, address, date of birth, and a description of the records you want to receive.  A hospital is required to respond to your request within thirty days if the records are kept in the hospital, or sixty days if they are stored in an off-site location.  Many hospital websites provide specific information and authorization forms for use in requesting records from the facility.  It’s usually a good idea to call the provider before submitting your request to make sure you’re sending the right form to the right address.

If you are the parent of a minor child, you may request your child’s records.  If you are the administrator or executor of the estate of a deceased person, you may request records for the decedent.  Sometimes the provider will release the records of a deceased person to the surviving husband or wife, or to the person named in the will as executor, but many institutions require a formal probate court appointment.

In Massachusetts, the provider is permitted to charge you a reasonable fee, set by a statute, General Laws, Chapter 111, Section 70, for retrieving and copying the records, unless the records are for use in a Social Security claim, or for a federal or state needs-based program.  The provider may not withhold the records because you have not paid a bill for medical services.  A hospital is required to keep records for 20 years from the date the patient is last seen.  A doctor must keep records for seven years, or until the patient reaches age 18.

When requesting records, it is important to be specific about which records you are requesting.  Particularly where the records are voluminous, or cover a long period of time, a hospital may provide only a summary or abstract of the records.  Depending on the purpose of the request, this may or may not be sufficient.  You are also entitled to receive copies of x-rays, CT or MRI scans, and other imaging studies.   Many labs and hospitals will not release pathology slides directly to the patient or an attorney, but will send them to another health care provider.

Georgetown University has a website that attempts to track requirements and time limits for requesting medical records in each state.  This site includes specific information for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine also publishes a brochure to help patients understand their rights in this area.

If you’re considering a medical malpractice claim, you may want to consult a lawyer before requesting your medical records.  A lawyer will be able to help you determine which records are necessary to evaluate a potential case, and most lawyers will handle the requests for you.  Health care providers  tend to interpret medical record requests quite narrowly, and will normally respond only with copies of records they created, omitting information received from other providers, administrative and billing documents and similar material.  If the purpose of a request is to investigate a medical malpractice case, there may be other important documents in the provider’s file that must be specifically requested.  These may include correspondence, records from other health care providers, billing records, history or information forms completed by the patient, and phone messages.

Most patients–and even many lawyers–do not realize that there may be important information that a hospital will not include even in response to a request for the complete record.  An often overlooked category of records includes certain anesthesia and surgical monitoring documentation.  For some reason, many hospitals do not consider these documents to be part of the patient’s record, and will not include them even in response to a request for the complete hospital record.  In a case involving surgical or anesthesia negligence, this documentation may be critical, as it contains detailed information not found in any other record.

Mike Harris to Chair Educational Program for Lawyers

Mike Harrris is chairing a seminar to help lawyers who handle medical malpractice cases better serve their clients.  Mike has assembled a panel of noted local authorities, including lawyers for patients, lawyers for doctors and hospitals, and an experienced insurance claim representative. seminar room The program, to be held at Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education on Winter Place in Boston on January 14, 2013, will also be available for remote viewing over the internet, both during the live presentation and a week later.  MCLE will also produce audiotapes of the presentation for those who miss these sessions or who want a lasting reference.

Aimed at both experienced practitioners and lawyers wanting to get started in this rewarding field, the fast-paced program will cover all aspects of medical malpractice cases, from case selection and evaluation through trial.  Mike and his panel will devote special attention to the new notice requirements for filing medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts, and the prospect for better disclosure of adverse events to patients and the possibility of quicker resolution of claims.

The seminar will also feature wide-ranging panel discussions on alternative methods of resolving cases through settlement or arbitration, and will guide attendees through the most recent laws for dealing with Medicare and Medicaid liens and protecting settlement funds.

Agenda: Handling Medical Malpractice Cases

A Blog is Born… and Some Fine Print

My baptism in the blogosphere came at the hands of a doctor.  A doctor who called himself Flea.  Flea was the defendant in a medical malpractice case in which I represented the family of a young boy who had died of undiagnosed diabetes.  In addition to being a doctor, Flea was a prolific and–some might say–incorrigible blogger.  Long before Flea and I crossed paths, Flea blogged on a variety of interesting topics.  He was irreverent, provocative, and sometimes brutally honest about his patients and his profession.  If he’d stuck to writing about medicine, he might still be blogging.

Unfortunately, shortly before the malpractice trial started, Flea began blogging about his trial preparation sessions with his lawyers.  He moved on to me, and then to the judge and the jurors, all in quite unflattering tones.  Someone dropped an electronic dime on Flea, and I found his blog.  It was fascinating reading!  I won’t rehash all the details of the denouement, which have been well-chronicled by bloggers like Eric Turkewitz, Kevin MD, and Overlawyered, and even in The Boston Globe, with varying degrees of accuracy.  But in the course of combing Flea’s blog for statements that contradicted his trial testimony (there were several), and in reading commentary by various bloggers who followed the saga, I learned a lot about the blogosphere.  An endless array of people commenting on an infinite variety of topics.  I’d simply had no idea that all this existed.

blog letters

And somewhere in those days, another blogger was born–or at least conceived.  The urge to add my observations nagged at me like an itch I just couldn’t scratch.  There is just so much going on, in medical malpractice, in personal injury, in trial practice.  So finally, with the launching of our new website, I have a platform.

This blog is intended to be informative, thought-provoking, and, I hope, an accurate source of news and information for our clients and other lawyers.  But there is a little fine print:

1.    Unfortunately, the law can be complicated, is subject to frequent changes, and may vary according to the jurisdiction and the particular facts of a situation.  This blog cannot provide legal advice.  Individuals who have legal questions should consult their own lawyers.  TRANSLATION: We hope you find this helpful, but you may not rely on what’s written here as legal advice.  If you are a lawyer, we hope you find this helpful, but you’ll need to do your own research and reach your own conclusions about the law that applies to your case.

2.    On occasion, this blog may give examples from past cases handled by my firm or other firms.  These cases are intended as illustrations, and should not be used as a basis for predicting results or outcomes in other cases.  It is tempting to try to compare one case to another, but without a detailed understanding of the facts and the law in each case, these comparisons can be very misleading.  TRANSLATION: Just because your neighbor or your Aunt Tillie tells you what happened in her case doesn’t mean that your case will result in the same outcome.

3.    I have been privileged to work with some wonderful people on various committees, particularly my friends and colleagues on the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence and the Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Any positions or opinions expressed here are my own individual thoughts, and not official statements of any group or organization.  TRANSLATION: Please don’t blame anyone else for what I write.