Retrieving Medical Records

Medical record stock image

For the most part, retrieval of medical records is a relatively straightforward process.  Armed with the appropriate HIPAA-compliant release of information, retrieving records for clients is often a matter of determining the appropriate custodian’s contact information and submitting the request.

Sometimes, it is not as simple as submitting a request and receiving the records in a timely manner.  Often provider staff members are very busy–sometimes delays or seeming unresponsiveness are merely a natural byproduct of human beings with hectic workloads.  In these cases, we at R&G have found conducting thorough research at the beginning of the process can improve turn-around time by ensuring that the request submitted meets the custodian’s internal requirements and reaches the correct individual at the organization–the individual who can fulfill the request.  Furthermore, building professional relationships with record custodians, and conducting appropriate follow-up on the status of the request often removes barriers caused by failures in communication or human error.

Still, there are times when conventional methods do not appear to work.  When this occurs, it becomes important to understand the rules and regulations which govern the custody of and availability of medical records.  What happens when records do not arrive in a reasonable amount of time?  What is a reasonable amount of time?  What if the provider appears unresponsive to the request?

The specific answers to these questions are found at the state level, and vary from state to state in terms of the specificity which is clearly defined in the statues or codes.  A state-by-state breakdown is beyond the scope of this post, but we can take a look at the State of Arizona as an example:

What is a reasonable amount of time?

In Arizona, many of the rules pertaining to medical records may be found in the Arizona Revised Statutes, under Title 12, in Chapter 14, Article 7.1, the section on Medical Records.  Although this code provides answers such as whether a custodian may charge a fee to third parties (yes, a reasonable charge is permitted), and the period after the last visit during which the custodian must maintain the patient’s record (six years), it does not define how long the custodian may take to produce the records.  Arizona Statute does, however, touch on this subject in Title 32, which governs Professions and Occupations.  In Article 1   In Article 1, “unprofessional conduct” is defined to include “Failing to make patient medical records in the physician’s possession promptly available…”.   Still, though, one must determine the meaning of “promptly” in this instance.

For further clarification, one might visit the Official Website of the Arizona Medical Board.  In the FAQ there, the board attempts to answer this question for its members, stating that “Three weeks is a reasonable amount of time unless there are extenuating circumstances.”

Keep in mind that this three week period is not part of the statute;  however, knowing that this is the time frame suggested by the Arizona Medical Board may be helpful when communicating with record custodians.  If the response to the request has been delayed, mentioning this interpretation by the Arizona Medical Board may help avoid the necessity for a costly subpoena.


No Legal Advice Intended:  This article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice.  Contact an attorney for advice on specific legal issues.


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