Authorization for Release of Medical Records

Medical records often contain confidential and sensitive information. Your records not only include the dates of your physical exams, height and weight but also information about the medications that you are taking and any diagnoses made by medical professionals. Most people, understandably, want to keep their medical records private and prevent their employers, relatives and friends from learning about every their medical history from anyone other than themselves.
Federal Law Protects Patient Privacy
The HIPAA law protects patient privacy. The law allows medical information to be shared without patient consent only in limited circumstances. For example, a person’s medical information can be shared with your health insurance company so that they can pay for your care, with friends, relatives or others whom you specifically identify as being allowed access to the information, to government agencies in an effort to protect public health and to the police if circumstances warrant. Medical information can also be shared with a patient’s parent if the patient is a minor or with the person responsible for paying the medical bills.
In most other cases, a patient needs to complete a written authorization for release of medical records before information can be shared with a third party.
How to Release Information to a Third Party
There are times, of course, where you want to share your medical information with a third party. For example, you may want to authorize your primary physician to share information with a medical specialist or therapist who is also treating you. In that case you should request and expect to be provided with an authorization for release of medical records document.
Before you sign an authorization for release of medical records form it is important to make sure that the form:
  • Specifically states whether the entire medical record or part of the medical record will be shared;
  • Describes whether this will be a one time occurrence of whether your health care provider can continue to make information available to the third party. If the information is going to be provided on an ongoing basis then there should be a date when the authorization expires and must be renewed.
  • Indicates who will receive the information. This should include the person’s name, address and telephone number;
  • Indicates how the medical information will be provided. In most cases it should be provided by mail or hand delivery rather than faxed to avoid the information being seen by anyone other than the intended recipient. 
If you believe that your health care provider inappropriately shared your medical information with a third party then you may file a complaint with that medical provider (or medical insurance company) or with the federal government.
Medical information is sensitive and personal. It is possible that a person can face discrimination or other repercussions if the information is not closely monitored and shared only with consent except in the circumstances where the release of the information is specifically allowed by law because of an overriding public policy consideration.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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