Nursing Home Residents Have a Right To Their Medical Records

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You – or your legal representative – have the right to review your medical records whenever you wish.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPPA, was passed to protect all of us. It ensures that our medical records stay between us and our medical providers unless we give written permission for someone else to see them. HIPPA is designed to give us control over our medical records.

If you are a resident of a nursing home, you – or your legal representative – have the right to review your medical records. By law, the nursing home must make your medical records available to you upon your written request.

A Nursing Home Resident’s Rights

As a resident at a nursing home anywhere in the United States, you have the right to see, obtain, and amend your medical records at any time for any reason.

A nursing home must provide you with your medical records within 24 hours (excluding holidays and weekends) of your written request.

If you are requesting a copy of your medical records, the nursing home has 2 business days to provide you the copy at a reasonable cost.

If you believe there is a mistake or inconsistencies in your medical records, you have the right to submit to the nursing home a written request detailing the error and asking to have it corrected. Though it depends on the state you live in, typically the nursing home has 60 days to reply to your request.

If the nursing home denies your request to correct your records, you have the right to have your letter detailing the error being included in your medical records.

The nursing home also must notify you that you have the right to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, United States Department of Health and Human Services, if you believe the nursing home has violated your right to see, obtain, or correct your medical record.

Medical Records and Caregivers

If your loved one has given you power of attorney, making you their legal representative, you have the right to the same access to the resident’s nursing home medical records that the resident does.

This is one reason why it is so important that you, as a nursing home resident’s caregiver, have power of attorney should your loved one become unable to handle their own medical, financial or legal affairs.

A legal representative is defined as the:

  • Parents or guardian of a minor resident.
  • Conservator of an adult resident.
  • Agent with a power of attorney for the resident’s health care decisions.
  • Beneficiary of an inheritance, will or trust.

A nursing home resident also can authorize you to access their medical records by signing a release form.

If you are not the legal representative for your loved one, HIPPA does provide for certain instances when the resident’s healthcare provider may – upon their discretion and with no objection by the resident – discuss the resident’s medical information. These include:

  • An emergency room doctor may discuss a resident’s treatment when the resident has asked the caregiver to come into the room.
  • A doctor may discuss a patient’s current condition with a spouse or adult child while the resident is recovering from an emergency, surgery or other treatment.
  • A hospital may discuss a patient’s bill with a family member who has questions about it when they are with the patient.
  • A doctor is permitted to discuss drugs prescribed to a patient, and their side effects with a family member or caregiver who comes with the patient to an appointment.

But a medical provider and the nursing home, according to HIPPA, is not permitted to discuss the resident’s previous health history or long-term prognosis without the resident’s permission.

Problems Accessing Medical Records

Nursing homes may invent excuses and drag their heels to protect themselves when residents or their caregivers request access to medical files. Sometimes they will try to steamroll you with reasons to justify not giving you the medical records.

The bottom line is that it is a resident’s right – and the legal representative’s right – to have access to their medical records.

If the nursing home continues to withhold the medical files, you can lodge a complaint with your state’s Department of Public Health or contact your local ombudsman who is often experienced in negotiating with nursing homes to protect residents’ rights.