The following information will help you to get a copy of your medical records from licensed doctors and hospitals in New Jersey. It will also explain your right to add a comment or correction to your records if you disagree with something. Both federal and state laws protect these rights. If you have any problems getting copies of your medical records, please see What can I do if I need legal help to get my medical records? at the end of this article.
Who can get copies of my medical records? Aren’t they confidential?
The law considers your medical records “protected health information” that your health care providers must keep confidential. Your doctor or hospital cannot release any information about your past, present, or future mental or physical conditions without the authority to do so. This includes the information that is kept in electronic records (for example, on a computer).
You, a representative who you authorize, or a person ordered by a court can get copies of your medical records (exceptions are described below). Doctors will ask you to sign an authorization that allows the doctor to give a copy of your records to your representative and to share your medical information with other health care providers who are necessary for your care.
If you have health insurance, you already signed an authorization that allows your health insurance carrier to obtain copies of your medical records for the purpose of approving and paying the medical charges. Your insurer may not release your medical information to your employer without your consent.
Do I have to ask for a copy of my records in writing?
A doctor is allowed to require you to fill out a records request form but will usually simply ask you to sign and date a receipt when you receive your copy. Hospitals have a form for you to complete. If you want the doctor or hospital to release your records to someone else, you will have to fill out a written authorization form.
Can I get copies of my children’s medical records?
If you are the parent or guardian of a minor child (not emancipated), you are considered to be their authorized representative and you may get copies of their medical records, except in certain cases. You cannot obtain the medical records of your minor child without their consent or a court order when the condition they are being treated for relates to pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, or substance abuse.
Can I get the originals of my medical records?
No. In New Jersey, records of your medical care are the property of your health care provider. Doctors must keep the originals in case they are needed later for your treatment by another doctor or health care provider. The law allows you to get copies of the records.
How long do I have to wait to get my copy?
Doctors and hospitals have 30 days from the time they receive your written request to give you the copy of your medical records. In practice, your records are usually copied and ready for you to receive in person in a week to 10 days. They must respond more promptly in an emergency.
Can I change my medical records if I don’t agree with them?
You may not change your original medical records, which includes your doctor’s notes or observations. But you may add a brief statement to your records—which will become part of your medical record—to correct, explain, or add information.
How long must a doctor or hospital keep my medical records?
Doctors in New Jersey must keep your medical records for seven years. After seven years, the law allows the doctor to destroy your records without any notice to you. In practice, most doctors will attempt to notify former patients by mail before they destroy medical records.
New Jersey also requires doctors to notify patients in writing (by certified mail to their last known address, return receipt requested), at least 30 days before terminating the doctor/patient relationship.
Hospitals must keep your records for 10 years or until the patient reaches the age of 23, whichever is longer.
Can a doctor or hospital charge me for a copy of my medical records?
Yes. Doctors may charge you no more than $1 per page or $100 for your entire medical record, whichever amount is less. If your record is fewer than 10 pages, the doctor is allowed to charge you $10. Doctors are also allowed to charge an administrative fee of no more than $10 or 10% of the copying cost, whichever is less. They may also charge the actual cost of reproducing records that cannot be copied easily, such as X-rays.
Some doctors may write you a summary of your medical record instead of copying the actual record. If so, your doctor may not charge you more for a summary than the cost of copying your entire record.
If your medical records are illegible (not readable), your doctor or other health care provider must give you a transcript of your records at no extra cost.
Hospitals may charge you no more than $1 per page or $100 for the first 100 pages of your record. For records with more than 100 pages, hospitals are allowed to charge 25¢ a page for pages in excess of 100 pages or a maximum of $200. They may also charge the cost of mailing the records. Hospitals must have a policy in place for patients who cannot pay these costs to be able to get their medical records.
Can a doctor refuse to give me a copy of my medical record if I owe the doctor money?
A doctor cannot refuse to give you or your authorized representative (which includes another doctor or health care provider) your medical record if they are needed for your ongoing treatment, whether or not you owe your doctor any money. However, your doctor can refuse to release a copy until you pay for the doctor’s cost of reproducing your record.
A doctor cannot refuse to release a copy when your insurer or employer has scheduled your medical examination. In that case, you must obtain a copy of your record from your insurer or employer.
When can my doctor refuse to give me a copy of my medical records?
Sometimes, in the treatment of mental or emotional conditions, a doctor might refuse to give you a copy of your medical record. Your doctor may refuse if your doctor decides that your health would be badly affected by your seeing your doctor’s personal opinion of your condition in your medical treatment records or a summary.
However, your doctor must add a note to your records explaining the refusal, and the doctor may release the records directly to (1) your attorney; (2) another licensed health professional; (3) your insurance carrier through an employee of the carrier; or (4) a government reimbursement program or agent with responsibility to review the quality of your care (such as the Medicaid or Medicare program).
What can I do if I need legal help to get my medical records?
If you have been unable to get a copy of your medical records, you may contact your regional Legal Services office or LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529) for legal assistance. The hotline will refer you to other sources of help if you are not eligible for Legal Services.
Medical Record Copy Laws and Fee Limits in Other States
If you need to get a copy of your medical records in other states then different rules apply. See Individual Access to Medical Records: 50 State Comparison (from Health Information & the Law) for a summary of those rules. See State Medical Records Payment Rates (from National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives) for medical record copy fee limits for other states.