How to Obtain Medical Records of a Deceased Relative

By Doug Drowley - Updated April 11, 2017

Medical records, even of a deceased individual, are generally protected. Only certain people are allowed to request medical records. Those people are relatives of the deceased, or certain representatives of those relatives. Requests may be needed for various reasons including autopsy of the deceased or medical history for other family members.

Locate Places Records are Held

Records are found at hospitals, doctors offices and specialized labs such as imaging or blood work. Determine what type of business is holding the medical records. Larger agencies or hospitals may have records centrally located or archived in different departments. Addressing any request correspondence to the business rather than a personal doctor will widen the search, increasing chances of success.

Inquire Over the Phone

Contact the agency holding the records. Although you might not obtain the records with a simple phone call, you might narrow your search. Confirm whether there are records and what documentation and forms are needed to fulfill the request.

Complete a Written Request

Put the request in writing, explaining your relationship to the deceased and why you need the medical records. Be as official as possible when making the request. Include as much of what you’re trying to obtain as you can. For example, if you need medications that were given to the deceased, include a Medicinal Administration Request, or MAR.

Also, it may be prudent, especially if the records will be used in court, to create and include a Bates Number. A Bates Number is a unique serial number that is attached or stamped on every page of a document. It can include letters and numbers, and include such things as the date along with random characters.

Template Forms

While medical records are protected information, reasonable need and use is allowed. Use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act resources, which are available online. For the specific task of getting the medical records of a deceased relative, find an FOI request letter generator. This gives you a template or example of the specific language to use for such a request.

Who Has Authority for the Request

Generally, only immediate family or the executor of the estate has access to deceased's medical records. Medical records do not belong to the estate, so the deceased's personal representative cannot approve or deny a request for the records. However, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, the legal representative for a deceased individual has the right to request those records. Should the legal representative no longer be available to complete the request, you may need to petition the court for approval of accessing the medical records.

Tip

Stay calm when talking to the agency holding medical records. Know that whoever answers the phone probably has no clue about such a request.

Warning

Don’t talk to medical personnel. It is generally a waste of time. Do not hire a lawyer to make contact. This only makes corporations wary, fearing that you are going to sue them.

About the Author

Doug Drowley is a Washington state attorney, a journalist and a professor at a northwest university. He has written professionally for 28 years, in newspapers, for magazines and online.

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