One of my great frustrations in representing injured people is the cost of medical records, a cost which is ultimately passed on to the client. In a recent blog post by attorney Max Kennerly of the Beasley Firm in Philadelphia, Mr. Kennerly discusses that although clients have the right to obtain their medical records and should be able to do so in an inexpensive and prompt manner, there has arisen an industry around charging high fees to provide medical records from hospitals and other medical providers.
Mr. Kennerly does a good job of describing several ways that federal law has attempted to limit the abuses of hospitals and medical insurance companies who have attempted to turn medical records requests into another profit center for the organization. Mr. Kennerly states:
“Federal law is quite clear: a patient has the “right to obtain from [their health care providers] a copy of [their medical records] in an electronic format,” 42 USC § 17935(e)(1), and that health care provider is allowed to bill “only the cost of … [c]opying, including the cost of supplies for and labor of copying,” 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4)(i)."
Unfortunately, these organizations have gone to great lengths to avoid these regulations. In Washington State where I practice, a bill sponsored by the Washington State Association for Justice attempted to regulate this practice at the state level, but was defeated by powerful corporate interests seeking to maintain a profitable side business. SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 2074 would have allowed patients to receive their medical records for free so they can pay an outstanding bill, but the bill failed to move out of the Senate Health Care Committee in time, despite having no opposition.
The other issue that we cope with, as lawyers representing injured people, is that oftentimes we want these records certified and Bates stamped, to satisfy the defendant’s insurance company or risk management department. This requires the use of a records retrieval and copying service, which adds even more to the cost. This is translated to our clients, who pay the costs out of their settlements and verdicts.
In his blog article, Mr. Kennerly includes a sample letter that an attorney can use when requesting clients’ medical records, and it is extremely well worded. I encourage attorneys to read it, as it is comprehensive, cites all related legislation and law, and is designed to deal directly with the delays and run-around often used by large medical facilities.
My office spends a great deal of time and money obtaining our clients’ medical records. Attorneys and the public need to constantly push lawmakers to regulate the cost of medical records, so that our own medical histories are no longer used as profit centers for corporations.
 The Washington State Bar Association Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(e)(1) requires that the client must be ultimately responsible for litigation costs which include the cost of obtaining medical records.