4 Details You Should Know About Your Medical Records

You are being monitored. Closely. They have been following you from the moment you were born, and likely will be for the rest of your life. Who are "they?" Your doctors, of course. We're talking about your medical records, or the notes, reports and lab results that your health care providers have amassed on your behalf, either digitally or in paper form. It may sound a little creepy, but these records provide a detailed (and oh so important) transcript of your medical history, from your birth weight to your (eventual) cause of death. (Excuse the morbidity.) This information is powerful as it can be used to ensure the quality of your care (and to prevent horrible mistakes). It is also tremendously personal. That is why it is so important that you understand how your medical information is kept and shared. Need a crash course? Here are four facts about your medical records that you should know.

Rethinking patient confidentiality: Four surprising facts about your medical records

1. Your medical records are yours. (Really!)

It may seem like your medical record is a closely guarded secret shared by all your health care providers, especially in this litigious era when doctors fear potential malpractice suits (earned or otherwise). Fear not: U.S. law protects your right to review, get copies of and, in certain situations, change your medical records. Still, it can be a process, especially when those records relate to mental health care. To get a copy if your file, submit your request in writing to your doctor's office; he (or she) must respond within 30 days. If they deny your request for any reason, appeal, appeal, appeal.

2. Other people can request your medical information without your knowledge or permission.

You might think that your medical records are a matter of patient confidentiality. Think again. In fact, a whole slew of people can request a copy of your records. Those who can request this information (without your permission) include: other health care providers, insurance companies, public health agencies, law enforcement agencies and your parents, if you are under 18 years of age. Requests from other friends, relatives and acquaintances will only be honored with your permission.

3. Your doc can leave a message regarding your care on your voicemail (or with whoever else answers your phone).

According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a physician can absolutely mail you a letter or leave you a voicemail regarding your care without ever asking your permission. In fact, they have the right to leave a message with anyone who answers your phone, even though they cannot possibly confirm that person's identity. Note, however, that medical personnel must take "reasonable safeguards" to minimize risk, such as confirming they dialed the right number.

4. If you become infected during the zombie apocalypse, expect your doctor to report it (with or without your permission).

If you ever contract a disease or other medical issue that endangers public health in any way, your doctor can (and probably will) report it to a public health agency, with or without your information. These agencies can use this information any number of ways, and can even contact you directly to discuss your symptoms, medical history and even what you ate for breakfast.

Making a living in medical records

Well kept medical records may improve your quality of life, but did you know they can help you earn a living, too? In fact, the keeping and sharing of patients' medical history has given rise to a bounty of new jobs, including medical records technicians. These are professionals who organize, review and protect information. It is an in-demand field that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow by an impressive 21 percent between 2010 and 2020. To take advantage of this opportunity you need the right training, however, especially considering the sensitive information you will be managing.

A degree in medical records is an excellent place to start this training. While either online or campus-based courses will suffice, online medical records programs lend themselves particularly well to courses dealing with digital record keeping, a growing trend in the medical field today. We suggest reviewing a number of programs to ensure you find one that suits both your career goals and style of learning.

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