August 23, 2023

Getting Your Medical Records for Free or Low Cost?

By Jackie B-F and Kairol Rosenthal

As a patient, you have the right to access your own medical records for a “reasonable” fee, according to federal HIPAA laws.  Most doctors’ offices and hospitals charge copying fees, which range widely in price, and add up if you have a thick chart. Here are a few ways to get your records for free or at reduced cost:

1. Make friends with the office staff. Receptionists and nurses deserve to be treated well for all the work they do for us and will often reciprocate our kindness.  Some may copy your records for free.  Be sure to say “thank you!”

2. Ask for your records a little at a time. Did your doc just read your lab report over the phone? Ask them to drop a copy in the mail.  Did they explain your pathology report during your appointment? Ask for a copy for your personal files.  Staff may be more inclined to print for free three pages here and there rather than 200 all at once.  And, if their office outsources medical records copying, they might rather make a three-page report using their own copier than process with their outside vendor the paperwork for such a small order.  Also, doctors and hospitals often don’t charge a fee to send your information directly to another doctor or institution.  If doctor ‘A’ sends a part of your medical file to doctor ‘B’, be sure to ask doctor ‘B’ for a copy of it at your next appointment.

3. Sign up for online charting. Some medical institutions are beginning to offer password protected online systems that allow patients to view test results and communicate with their doctors. Ask your oncologist, or other doc, if they have such a system and if so, sign up for it and continually request that lab results and notes be posted there.  Print from this system new records as they are posted and include them in your personal hardcopy files.

4. Get help from a social worker or patient advocate. These people know the ins and outs of the hospital.  Ask about financial assistance for medical records copying or see if they have the ability to waive your fees.  Remind them that you are a young adult cancer patient and describe the financial burdens your care imposes.

5. Offer to pay a reduced amount. As with asking for a reduction in the cost of your medical bill, care providers are more inclined to say ‘yes’ if you make a good will offer to pay some amount, even if it is only a fraction of the charge.

6. Understand the law. Many states set legal limits on medical copying fees. Google the name of your state and “medical records copying fees” to see if your state has such laws.  Be sure the information you retrieve is from an official state government website.  If you are being charged beyond what the law allows, politely explain this to your doc or hospital, and show them a print out of the law.  If needed, raise the issue with an administrator higher in the chain of command.  Calmly threatening to call your State Attorney General’s office is a last resort that often yields action.

How much have you been charged for medical records?  Have you found ways to work around the costs?

For more information on how to work the system and save money, read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.

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  1. anonymous Says:
    August 23rd, 2011 at 10:07 PM


  2. tara Says:
    August 25th, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Yeah, after being sick for a long time I realized I had to come up with a better way of getting medical records. I do find it’s easiest to get copies of whatever test that was done, right away. So far, I haven’t had any office charge me for that initial copy. It’s usually only if I wait a long time or they need to send a lot of pages. And it’s so much easier now that I have my own copies of everything because I can also send them to other doctors, disability, etc.. and can sometimes avoid fees that way as well.

    I also got savvy with knowing which test copies I can more easily than others and not even have to worry about fighting for the doctor to give me results/send a copy. Sometimes when you get bloodwork done at a place like LabCorp, you can get a copy mailed to you, but I think it depends on your state. Other radiology type tests, scans,mris, etc.. I realized when I get them done in association with the hospital, as opposed to a free standing facility, I can get the copies from their medical library, before seeing my doctor. Sometimes even at a freestanding facility you can request the report be mailed to you if you sign a consent form when you’re at your appointment.

  3. Kairol Rosenthal
    Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    August 25th, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Tara, Thanks for a great contribution to the list. I put part of your answer in bold so that other readers can easily see your savvy suggestion. It is a good reminder. So often when I am sent to get blood drawn it is just after seeing the doctor and my head is spinning from all of the info covered in the appointment. When I go to the doctor’s I always bring a list of questions with me and now I think I will tack a ‘to-do’ item on to the list that reminds me when I am filling out the consent form at the lab to ask for copies of my results to be sent to me.

  4. Tara Says:
    August 31st, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    Ha, yeah, I totally have added the “to do” part to my list o’ questions. There’s always a bolded or highlighted, “Get copy!” on my post-it. I also have made a habit of right after I leave an appt. , cause my head is always spinning too;-) To re-go over my list of questions/answers.. and try to neatly write the impt points/next steps.. so along with.. Pick up RX, get blood, etc.. sometimes “Call for copy” or “Followup if haven’t received copy in mail”, goes on there.. ha, cause I will sometimes forget if they don’t send it, if it’s not written down;-)

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