California Medical Records Laws: HIPAA and Patients' rights

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Although medical records remain the property of the medical provider or facility that creates them, patients retain many rights when it comes to their health information. Both federal and California medical records laws ensure patient privacy. Furthermore, some state laws give patients access to the records that medical providers keep.

How Can Patients See Their Records?

California Health and Safety Code Section 123100 gives all patients in California the right to see their medical records. The law also outlines how patients must request this information and establishes guidelines for medical facilities that provide the records.

Adult patients or legal representatives for minors should provide written requests to their doctors to see their medical records. For California medical records release laws to apply, the patient must request that the facility send the records directly to the patient. The law does not mandate that medical providers have to release these documents to other doctors, insurance representatives, attorneys or anyone other than the patient.

Once the patient provides the written request, the medical provider or facility has five working days to provide those records. If a provider fails to meet this standard, the patient can file a complaint with the Medical Board of California.

Fees for Accessing Medical Records

California medical records release laws allow medical facilities to charge small fees for copies of medical records. Medical providers can charge 25 cents per page of records, as well as a clerical fee.

The clerical fee must be considered reasonable, though the law does not set a specific limit. When it comes to records that appear on films, such as X-rays, doctors can charge whatever it costs them to make the copy.

California medical records laws do allow certain patients to receive free copies of specific health records. If the patient needs the documents to claim a public benefit program, the medical provider must give the relevant documents for free. Applicable benefits programs include Supplementary Security Income, Medi-Cal and Social Security disability.

Read More: How to Get Medical Records Sealed From Background Searches

Who Else Can Access Patient Records?

California medical records privacy laws allow medical providers to give health information to certain other professionals in emergency situations. Assembly Bill 1119 from 2017 clarifies that providers can provide information to the following professionals in such situations:

  • Doctors.
  • Psychologists.
  • Professional counselors.
  • Social workers with master's-level licenses.
  • Emergency services providers.
  • Nurses.
  • Marriage and family therapists.

Requesting a Change to Medical Records

Federal laws allow patients the right to request that doctors change their medical records. Sometimes providers make these simple changes. However, medical providers do not have to make the requested changes.

California medical records laws give people the right to submit addenda to their medical records. Patients can submit written statements that are added to their medical records that give their side of the story. The statements can include up to 250 words per issue that the patient wants to address.

Federal Health Privacy Laws

California medical records laws primarily address a patient's rights to their own information. However, federal law covers each patient's right to privacy regarding their medical information.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives every patient in the United States certain rights regarding medical privacy. In broad terms, patients have the right to:

  • See their patient records.
  • Petition for changes to their medical records.
  • Know who has accessed their health information.
  • Tell providers and insurers what information they want kept private.
  • Let providers know their preferred contact methods.

Doctors are allowed to share patient records without consent in only a few situations. For example, medical providers can share some information with insurance providers. However, medical professionals cannot use patient health information for marketing or give it to an employer without the patient's written consent.

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