How can I get Medical Records from 20 years ago?

Primary care providers usually controlled medical records; however, patients now tend to receive and save their own information.

As one of our rights, having access to our records can help us to avoid other problems. Without them, we would not be able to request consults, tests, or medications that are vital to us.

If you are interested in finding how to get your old medical records, you’ve come to the right article.

Old medical records

If the record you are looking for is very old, like 20 years or more, it may be challenging to obtain the information because, in many cases, your doctor may be retired or not available at the moment.

This is a controversial topic that we can find even in media such as Reuters. Here is an extract from one of their articles:

Reuters article about Medical Records

However, there are several ways to find your doctor and, therefore, your records. Try to contact these:

  1. Your local or state medical society: Many of the health departments of these institutions require annual registration; they probably have updated information about your doctor.
  2. Your health insurance company: Even if your doctor does not work with the insurance anymore, they will have some contact details.
  3. Any hospital where your doctor worked: Most hospitals can give information about your doctor’s work hours and other pertinent information.

If you do not get your records this way, you will need to rebuild them. It is a process that consists of:

  • Contact all the laboratories, specialists, and hospitals you have visited.
  • Ask your insurance about all the health plans that you used.
  • And verify the copies that you may have from prescriptions, exams, and diagnoses.

➡ READ ALSO: Who is eligible for care within the Veterans Health Care Administration?

How to request medical records

To request medical records, most hospitals or clinics will give you a form in their facilities or via mail. If the institution does not have a form, you will have to write a letter that includes:

  1. Full name.
  2. Social Security Number.
  3. Residence address.
  4. Telephone number.
  5. Email.
  6. Date of birth.
  7. Specified requested records.
  8. And legible signature.

On the other hand, the Rocket Lawyer website has an online tool to help you write the letter. Click here to try it.

Medical Records Request tool

Also, it generally takes between 30 and 60 days to receive the records. We recommend keeping a copy with the date of request, and if there is no response after several attempts, you should contact the Health Department.

Besides, you will most likely have to pay a fee to get the documents; the price may vary, but it should always be reasonable.

The institution cannot, in any way, retain the records even if you did not complete the payment. They will have to look for other alternatives or take legal actions.

Available records

As we mentioned in the beginning, the age of the records may affect if they are available or not.

Doctors, hospitals, and laboratories must save adult medical records for a minimum of six years, and children’s records for three years after turning 18 or 21 (this may vary depending on the state).

Patients have the right to obtain the following documents:

  1. Notes your doctors.
  2. Diagnostic results.
  3. Blood tests.
  4. X-rays.
  5. Genetic testing.
  6. Biopsies.
  7. Any information used to establish your diagnosis and treatment.

Not available records

Yes, certain records can be denied, mainly those that include pathologies related to mental health; this occurs because the exposure of this information can harm the doctor’s relationship with the patient.

In these cases, the denial must be written by the doctor explaining the reasons.

Moreover, if you are unfairly denied your medical records or if the documents have been exposed without your consent, you can formally file a complaint with the Department of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, consult here: www.hhs.gov/hipaa/filing-a-complaint.

Legal facts

To sum up, here are some legal facts that you need to know about this topic:

  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) confirms the right of citizens to obtain their medical records (doctor’s notes, lab results, billing, etc.), either manuscript or electronic.
  • It is primarily the patient who has the full right to request their medical records. Still, HIPPA also allows the patient’s parents, guardian, or caregiver with written permission from the patient.
  • Certain entities that you have authorized (by signing any contract or form) may also request your medical records. For example: insurance companies, laboratories, universities, your employer, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, among others.
  • If a doctor dies, the records will be sent to a health care institution or an accredited commercial storage that accepts the responsibility to protect the documents.
  • Although this information must be cautiously protected, it can be sent through emails or mobile applications.

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28 thoughts on How can I get Medical Records from 20 years ago?

  1. I live in Texarkana Texas. Bowie county. My doctor has been out of practice for quite a few years and I desperately need my records from his office for the years 2000 through 2010. The doctors name was Rodney Chandler M.D. address was state line Avenue Texarkana Texas 75501. Please help time is of the essence.

    Reply
  2. I need inpatient records from St. Vincent’s Medical Center Jacksonville, Florida from a 2008 brain surgery I had but they only keep records 8-10 years, is there anywhere to find these medical records? The surgeon’s office doesn’t keep records that far back either.

    Reply
    • Hi Becky! Unfortunately, it is difficult to find old documents like that one. If both the Medical Center, and the doctor, do not keep those records, then your last option is the health/insurance company (if you had one).

      Contact them and ask for information about your surgery.

      Reply
  3. Hi my name is Jennifer my husband is trying to get his medical records from Richmond Virginia going back to 1976 when he had surgery the hospital is no longer open is there any way I may get them if they still available.

    Reply
    • Hi Jennifer!

      If the hospital is no longer open, you can try by contacting his doctor. You can try with the local or state medical society of Virginia, and ask them about the doctor.

      Another option is to contact the laboratories you visited or the insurance company (if you had coverage).

      Reply
  4. I need to obtain proof of a sterilization but the doctor is no longer in practice I do have the insurance company info after a long search but what department do I ask to get the proof it is for a case and the lawyer said they were unable to obtain them time us running out and I need help I even have the date and anesthesiologists name

    Reply
    • Hi Christina! You should contact the company and give them details about the type of medical procedure you had. After that, they will let you know which department is in charge of that. Request the proof of the medical procedure and have another doctor to give you an affidavit about it.

      Reply
  5. My mother passed away in 2011 in Montgomery Alabama. I am writing her biography and would like to refer accurately to her medical records. How or even can I get access to her medical history?

    Reply
    • Hello Angie! Generally, the only person allowed to request medical records is the patient, and the people that he or she authorized. However, you can try to get the information from an insurance company through your mother’s emergency contact. Whether it is you, or another relative, an emergency contact may be able to receive some kind of information. You just need to try.

      Reply
  6. My name is Georgina Ceja, I desperately need records for 2000-2001from Athena Medical Group, Dr Auther Adams. The last place I saw him at was at 321 Cherry Lane Manteca, CA, I had previously seen him at a clinic in Tracy CA on Tracy Blvd but don’t have the exact address. I have reached out to the corporate office asking for a copy of records and they claim that the no longer have them, they’ve been destroyed since it was past the time they are required to keep them. Is there a way to get them from somewhere else? I need to prove my presence in the US for those years and its crucial that I get those records.

    Reply
    • Hi, Georgina! If the clinic destroyed the documents according to their regulations, there is not much to do. The best option is to find the doctor; you can try through LinkedIn or his state medical society.

      Another thing you can do is contact the insurance company – if you had one. Hope you can fin those records!

      Reply
  7. Hi, I need Medical records from 13 years ago and the Hospital told me they can only go back 10 years.. I’m in California. Is there anything I can do?

    Reply
    • Hi, James. You should contact the doctor or the hospital where he works. This article only provides information about things you can do to get the records, we do not have contact with any medical center or doctor.

      Reply
    • There are several ways to find your doctor and, therefore, your records. Try to contact these:

      Your local or state medical society.
      Your health insurance company.
      Any hospital where your doctor worked.

      Reply
  8. I need help getting medical records from a pain management physician that is not in practice any longer. His name is James Merritt. He was in Searcy, Arkansas (White County). This would have been the year 2000.

    Thank you,

    Reply
    • Hi Carolyn! We cannot help you to specifically locate your physician since we are a purely informative blog. However, you can try to contact these: Your local or state medical society, your health insurance company, or any hospital where your doctor worked. They could give information about him.

      Reply
  9. Hello, I need medical records from 1979 from Regional Medical Center located in Anniston, Alabama. I was 17 at the time and I know they placed my son’s foot prints, , weight, and length on his birth certificate. The hospital stated they can only go back 10 years.

    Reply
    • Hi Juanita! If the hospital said that, they can be correct; that’s the usual amount of time. You can check with your local or state medical society or the health insurance company if you had one.

      Reply
  10. Good info in the article.
    Hello! I’m looking to get medical records from 2002 and I pretty sure that I’ll need to go through the insurance company to get them. My question is about what info they will have? Is the record from the insurance company an exact copy of what’s in my medical records… I am looking for specific details about the surgery like which area of colon was removed, how much, and a few other things.
    Thanks

    Reply
  11. Hello. I wanted to commend you on a great article. I found that I ran into everything you mentioned here. Currently, I am having an extremely hard time getting the medical device UID (bar code, Makers mark, manufacturer name/brand, expiration date, lot # etc.) from a hernia mesh that was implanted inside me in 2016 from the Surgeon/Doctor who performed my surgery and the Hospital where I had the surgery. I received only half my report. When I asked about the information involving my mesh, they became hostile and proceeded to tell me that it had been “Lost” or “misplaced.” After reading up extensively these past 2 years about Medical Implant Devices, I firmly believe that the FDA should have been notified for the Medical device information should a recall or problem occur (like the thousands going on all around me), and I forgot to mention that said hernia mesh was taken out a year later due to multiple infections, pain, and worse. My surgeon who took the mesh out said it was so bad he could not distinguish what kind of weave it had due to the extent of bodily tissue damage it had done and had adhered itself to mesh. Is there another avenue I haven’t looked to get my medical device #? Thank you so much again for writing this and for reading my post.

    Reply
    • Hi Erica! Thanks for reading our article. Your situation is unfortunate, we are sorry about that. We consider that the ideas mentioned in the article are the most feasible to get that information, however, if you have already tried, we are not sure what else can help you. Maybe contacting the second doctor who removed your mesh. On the other hand, this article contains details about this information gap regarding medical devices: https://www.propublica.org/article/how-does-the-fda-monitor-your-medical-implants. Maybe it can give you a clearer idea of the problem you are facing. We hope you can solve it, regards!

      Reply
  12. Mine are probably gone. It has been 30 years ago I had what the dr said an allergic reaction to anesthesia and flatlined twice having an outpatient procedure and now I’m having surgery again and wish I’d been able to get those records of having my gallbladder removed in around 1990. I’m so stupid for not thinking to get them years ago. Ughh

    Reply
  13. Hello,

    I have an unusual request that I really need help with. In the early 80s I was an elementary student involved in a bus accident. Myself and several other students were taken to a nearby hospital to get checked out. The hospital had to call in 60 extra workers to help with the caseload. I had a spranged ankle. I don’t know if the schools insurance took care of the services. I don’t know the ER doctor or nurse. I contacted my old pediatricians office and was told that all records 10 years after the last visit were destroyed. I contacted the hospital they referred me to Iron moutain who could not would not answer my questions and refered me back to the hospital. The hospital said she would check with Iron Mountain and called me back in less the 30 minutes to say Iron Mountain does not have records that old. I think my records are still out there. I want them. What next? Please help. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hello, Juli! If you do not know the ER doctor or nurse, and both the hospital and Iron Mountain do not keep the records, I believe your last chance is the school insurance. Try to contact them!

      Reply

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