I got a call from a man the other day who was very upset because he wanted a copy of his medical records and the staff at his physician's office wouldn't turn them over. I hear this all the time and it makes me very angry.
Doctors and hospitals are required by law to maintain copies of medical records and they are further required by law to produce copies of those records to patients if the pateint requests them. Obviously, you need to sign a release form, which the doctor's office can provide, but this is not a big deal. Once you sign the form, there is absolutely no reason that you should be prevented from obtaining your records. Despite what many office manager's may tell you, you do not even need to give them a reason. They are your records and you are entitled to them.
There are a few things you need to understand with medical records. The law gives the doctor or hospital 30 days to produce the records. So, just because they don't give them to you the moment you ask for them doesn't mean they are doing anything wrong. However, if they go beyond the 30 days, they are in serious violation of the law. In fact, every day beyond the 30 days is a seperate violation of the law which brings a seperate penalty.
Also, they are entitled to charge a "reasonable" fee for copying the records. If you only have a few pages they typically don't charge, but if you have a significant amount they are allowed to be paid the costs of copying them. What is "reasonable" is obviously open to interpretation.
If you are trying to get records on behalf of an adult relative things are a little different. You may need to show that you have power of attorney to obtain the records, even if you are the person's spouse. If you are trying to get the records of a deceased relative you will likely need to show that you have been appointed as the executor of the person's estate and that you are entitled to the records. However, many facilities will give the records to a spouse, without formal appointment, if you provide a copy of the death certificate.
If you are obtaining records because you are considering pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a provider you should keip in mind a few other issues. First, the hospital or doctor will most likely NOT give you all of the records, even though you asked for them. It may not be a malicious attempt to prevent you from learning something, it may just be a misquided attempt to not overwhelm you with a ton of records. Either way, you should just assume that they are not giving you everything you ask for. Second, it may be advantageous to avoid letting the health care provider know that you are investigating a lawsuit. There have been cases were records are lost, altered, or added to, after people learn there is a possibility they might get sued.