Inside the Survivor’s Guide

Requesting and Reading Your Medical Records

Reading your medical records can assist you with better understanding what happened and may aid in your follow-up health care. Below addresses the most commonly asked questions about how to obtain and read your medical records.


Why should I request my medical records

An important step in the healing process is to better understand what physically happened to you. Many who experience an AFE have limited or no memory of the event and are challenged to piece together what happened. This can lead to confusion about your physical health and your ability to advocate for future health care needs.

Many survivors have shared their frustration of having to rely on their spouse/partner or family members to help explain what happened to them. Oftentimes, those same individuals are also triggered from such a traumatic event that they may want to avoid the topic, don’t remember all of the specifics, or may be fearful to tell you such difficult memories.

Reading your medical records can assist you with better understanding what happened and may aid in your follow up health care.

When should I request my medical records?

We recommend requesting your records approximately 15- 30 days after you were discharged. 

How do I request my medical records?

To obtain your records you must complete a Release of Health Information form from your specific hospital(s). The form is usually available on the hospital’s website under “patient” or “medical records”. You may also call the main hospital phone number and ask to be connected with the medical records department. Once you complete the form you can send it back by mail, email, or fax. If you were transferred from one hospital to another, you will need to request records from each separate hospital. Also, some hospitals outsource their medical records to an outside company that specializes in document storage. If that is the case, you will deal directly with the vendor rather than the hospital. 

Is there a cost to getting my medical records?

Most hospitals or record storage companies will charge a fee. It can be a flat fee or per page. Flat fee charges may differ depending on how the records are sent to you. Usually, email is the least expensive. However, you may have too many pages of records for them to be emailed. Hospitals typically do not charge if the records are being requested for “continuity or follow up care” by another physician. You may ask your obstetrician, midwife, or primary care physician to request a copy and ask them to give it to you. Or, you may negotiate fees with the hospital or medical records servicer. 

Where should I store my medical records?

Paper records should be stored in a box or binder for future reference. Electronic records should be stored on a thumb drive or separate hard drive. We recommend storing electronic copies in 2 places to protect against accidental deletion.

Where should I start when reading my medical records?

One of the best ways to begin to read your records is to organize them by grouping them into categories such as progress notes, operative reports, lab results, imaging reports, etc. Then, put those groupings into date order. We recommend reading the progress notes and operative reports first. If you received cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) there will likely be a “code blue record” or “code blue sheet” or sometimes the information may be included in the anesthesia record. 

How long will hospitals keep my medical records?

Hospitals are only required to keep records for a specific amount of time. Most often it is between 5-10 years, although the requirements differ from state to state, or country.

Should I get a full copy of my medical records?

You usually have the option to get a full copy or a summary copy of your hospital stay. A summary copy is usually sufficient in assisting you with understanding the over course of your care. Summary copies typically include doctors and nurses notes, operative reports, consult notes, health history, test results, and the discharge summary. A summary copy significantly reduces the total number of pages of your records. 

In some cases, you may want to have a full and complete set of records. Full records usually include lab values, blood transfusions records, medications, measurements of fluids, and heart rate strips. 

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