Medical Records FAQ

Compiled from the Richmond Academy of Medicine
“Guidelines to Medical Ethics

How do I request my records from my physician?
Any request for copies of health records from a patient must follow certain guidelines. Requests for copies of health records must: a. Be in writing, dated and signed by the requester; b. Identify the nature of the information requested; and c. Include evidence of the authority of the requester to receive such copies, and identification of the person to whom the information is to be disclosed.
Can my physician charge me for a copy of my medical records?

Yes, physicians are allowed to charge for medical records, but the Academy recommends that physicians furnish copies of health records to their patients regardless of the patients’ willingness to pay. A physician who refuses to provide health records opens himself to tremendous liability should the patient suffer a medical problem that could have been diagnosed with the help of the health records.

Can I still request a copy of my records if my physician closes his practice or transfers ownership?

Refusing to process a request for patient records after the closing of a business or professional practice or after the transfer of ownership of a business or professional practice is considered an “unlawful act.”


Can I request my original records instead of a copy?

The Academy recommends that a physician retain the original of the patient’s records.


How are records transferred from my previous physician to my current one?

When an attending physician requests the transfer of his patient’s medical records from a physician who formerly treated the patient, and when such transfer is properly authorized, the complete record should be made available to the attending physician. It is unethical for a physician who formerly treated a patient to refuse for any reason to make the patient’s records available, upon request, to an attending physician. Medical records made by a physician in private practice are for his own use and belong to him. A patient, however, has a legal right to obtain a copy of the records, with certain exceptions.


Are physicians required to retain records for a certain amount of time?

The Academy recommends that physicians retain patient records for a period of at least ten years. Thereafter, records should be destroyed only after consultation with the physician’s counsel. It should also be noted that records for minors and incompetents must be retained for longer periods. Medical records of minors should be kept for five years beyond the age of 18, and longer if the person has a disability. Medicaid requires a record retention period of five years, and Medicare has no time requirement for retention of records.

What happens to my records if my physician closes, sells or relocates his practice?

A physician who either closes, sells or relocates his practice may not transfer a current patient’s records until the physician has first attempted to notify his patient of the pending transfer: (i) by mail, at the patient’s last known address; and (ii) by publishing prior notice in a newspaper of general circulation within the physician’s practice area. The notice must specify that, upon the patient’s written request and direction, the records will be sent to another provider or will be provided to the patient. The notice must also state the charges, if any, for providing the patient or the provider chosen by the patient copies of his records, and the charges may not exceed the actual costs of copying and mailing or delivering the records. A current patient is one who has had a patient encounter with the physician or his practice within two years prior to the date the records are transferred; relocation means moving the practice to another location more than 30 miles away or moving the practice to another state or the District of Columbia.