Requesting Test Results

Some places make it easier than others to get copies of your test results (and other medical records).

At my PCP’s office, the first time my doctor went over lab results in detail, he offered, “Would you like a copy of this?”  At the end of the appointment he handed that page to the MA and asked her to make a copy for me.  Another time my husband had some abnormal labs and the nurse who phoned offered to mail him a copy of the results.

My PCP makes it easy – it’s the culture in his office.  When I wanted more information and asked the front desk how to get copies, the receptionist grabbed my chart and said, “I can make copies for you right now.  What do you need?”  That’s for just one or two sheets of paper.  When I asked for a whole bunch of copies, I was asked to sign a release.  My doctor keeps track of stuff like that.

I appreciate his approach a LOT because it hasn’t always been so easy.

When we moved, finding a new pediatrician for my kids was difficult.  The first doctor didn’t work out.  When we left that practice, it was nearly impossible to get my kids’ records.  First I phoned and asked, but nothing happened.  Next I completed the records request form for the new doctor and his office sent it to the old doc.  Nothing happened.  I phoned again and was told that I’d have to fill out the old doc’s records release form.  Okay… Still nothing.  I phoned one last time to receive more empty promises.

Finally I wrote a letter citing specific dates that I’d previously asked for my kids’ records and closed with, “It isn’t supposed to be this hard!  What steps do I need to take to have you release these records that my children’s pediatrician has requested and I have a legal right to obtain?”  This was misconstrued as a threat of legal action, and the records were copied and sent to the new pediatrician promptly.


According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), patients in the United States are legally entitled to see their medical records.  Patients are also entitled to copies of that record, including test results.  This is not either/or.  We’re allowed both a peek at the chart, and a copy.

The doctor doesn’t have to give the copies away, though.  It takes time to pull a chart, find the requested pages, make copies, then re-assemble the chart.  Paper and ink for the copy machine cost money.  Postage adds up.  Doctors are allowed to charge a fee to cover the costs associated with getting copies for patients.  One of my first jobs involved quite a bit of filing (which led to my speedy decision to attend college), so I am strongly in favor of making people pay reasonable costs associated with all this paperwork.

Just to confuse matters, in addition to HIPAA, every state has extra laws surrounding the subject of patient-access to medical records.

Confused yet?  There are some circumstances in which doctors can deny a patient’s request – for instance if the doctor believes that the patient would cause harm (to self or another) upon learning the information in question.  There are ways around that, though.  Reference the above links if you need more information.

If a simple request to your doctor doesn’t yield the desired results, check out Trisha Torrey’s How to Request Your Medical Records for some good tips.



4 thoughts on “Requesting Test Results

  1. It sounds as though your laws are basically the same as ours here in Canada – patients have a right to access and obtain copies of their medical records except in certain circumstances like the ones you mention, in which case the patient may still apply for a court review of the doctor’s refusal to grant access.

    As you say, though, this doesn’t always mean it’s easy to obtain your own medical records. I’ve had some doctors who have been reluctant to release them to me, but there have been others who have been very willing and helpful. Before I went to Europe, my old cardiologist decided I should have absolutely every record there was and made me a big package with my whole cardiac history; it was thoughtful of him and really helped me feel at ease about travelling.

  2. It’s going to be very interesting to see how my PCP and rheumatologist, and now my PT, all react when I ask them for my records, lab results, etc. Since my medical care is through the VA, I’m sure that they’ll have many additional hoops I’ll need to crawl through and papers I’ll have to sign. But you’ve convinced me of the importance of keeping my own records. The records for my first bout of severe RA, from 1987 to roughly 1995, are gone. Poof. I’ve no idea what happened to them; no one seems to be able to find them in the vast bureaucratic guts of the stateside-and-overseas U.S. Military health system. So I’ve pretty much had to start over from scratch. At least I was already familiar with the medical terms, etc. that docs use when talking about rheuma, and I was familiar with several of the meds.

    Anyway. You don’t need me to write a book, here. ;o) Nice post, WarmSocks. More info. You’re the best.

  3. Helen – thanks. I was curious about the laws in other countries. That was a really nice thing for your cardiologist to do.

    Wren – lost records are a perfect example of why it can be really nice to have your own copy. Let me know how it goes. I tend to ask, “Are the certain papers I need to sign to get…?” You’re always welcome to write

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