Gathering full medical records an arduous, if not impossible, task for patients

Medical records

Most Americans would find it very difficult, if not impossible, to assemble all of their medical records, according to a new article in the New York Times.

The article, which addresses recent controversy about the release of medical records by presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, says the existence of a “single file” of anyone’s medical records is “fiction.” 

In actuality, almost everyone’s medical data is in “bits and pieces.” It could be stored on computers, filed away in cabinets and elsewhere. Many people also have records located in more than one state.


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The article notes that while electronic health record systems can hold a lot of data, and that health information exchanges can consolidate medical records further, EHRs are still in their “infancy.” Most medical histories are still in paper form.

Because of that, to obtain full medical records of an individual, one would need a “perfect” accounting of every doctor’s office, even those who are retired or deceased. Another barrier? Many records no longer exist, according to the article.

That's not to mention that even when a patient requests copies of his or her records, misunderstandings about rights to data under HIPAA can get in the way. 

The article does not some exceptions. Sen. John McCain’s medical records, which he has released, are fairly complete. However, that’s because of his military service and participation in a long-term study of the military health system. Even those records did not include his treatment outside of the military at the Mayo Clinic; he had to jump through some hoops to gather separate data.

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