How to transfer medical records when moving

Find out how to transfer medical records when moving.More about Ethan Greenfield

So, you’re moving to another city or state and feeling overwhelmed with moving preparations and plans. There’s so much to do and so little time to do it, that you may be at a loss for how to handle it all. It’s, therefore, quite easy to ignore some seemingly not so important details (like transferring utilities, updating documents, notifying people and institutions for your move, etc.) in favor of more crucial ones – herculean tasks like packing your entire household and monumental decisions like choosing the best movers for you, for example. Yet, these small details may cause you a lot of headaches afterwards, so it’s best to handle them in time.

Transferring medical records is a good example of such a “minor” moving task that may have major consequences – such as being stuck going to an urgent care center until your new doctor gets your records – if not promptly taken care of. To avoid such troublesome situations, you should get your medical records transferred in due time. Here is everything you need to know to make the process smooth and easy:

Do I have to transfer medical records?

Transferring medical records when moving will ensure that you receive appropriate medical care in your new city – your new doctor will have all the information they need to be able to provide you with effective treatment and quality health services.

When you move to a new city or state and begin seeing a new medical provider, they won’t know your medical history, past illnesses, or specific conditions. It will take time for you and your new doctor to get to know each other. Transferring your medical records will help the transition as it will give your new health provider access to your previous doctor’s notes, test results, and prescriptions, thus minimizing repeated lab tests and medical expenses and, most important of all, preventing treatment that may contradict an existing medical condition your new doctor didn’t know about.

Your medical records typically include vaccine records, test results, treatment plans, medications, and other health information from your previous doctor(s) and health insurer(s), as well as from hospitals, laboratories, and other medical centers that have provided you with health services in the past.

According on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, you have the right to access (see and get copies of) your medical records and send this information (or part of it) to other parties, including a new doctor. Keep in mind though that the records are property of the health provider who has prepared them – you can’t have the originals, just copies. Yet, you can’t be refused access to your medical information, even if you owe money for health services.

Good to know: Only you, your health provider(s), and your personal representative(s) can access your medical records.

How to transfer medical records?

To transfer medical records from one doctor to another, you can either have copies of your records sent to your new medical provider or get hard copies from your last doctor and bring them with you. Either way, you need to:

  • Decide what parts of the records you want to transfer – If you have already found a new physician in your new city, ask them what medical information they’d like to have – your entire file, former doctor’s notes, lab results, or just immunizations and procedures or hospitalizations you’ve undergone. If you haven’t chosen a new medical provider yet, it’s best to get copies of all your medical records;
  • Submit a request – Your current health provider will require a written authorization to release your medical records. So, you need to fill out a medical records transfer form and send it to your doctor. You have to include your name and contact information, your social security number and birthdate, as well as any specifics about which records to release, in your request. If you want your records to be sent directly to your new doctor’s office, you need to provide directions as to where to send the copies as well;
  • Pay the necessary fee, if applicable (see below for details);
  • Follow up with your physician to make sure they received your request and the medical records transfer is in progress.

Good to know:  You can request paper copies of your medical records or electronic copies – on a USB flash drive or CD. If both your former doctor and your new one use compatible electronic health record systems, your medical information can be electronically transferred to your new health provider (you will still need to give authorization for the transfer though).

Can doctors charge you for your medical records?

Providers cannot charge you for locating and retrieving your medical records, but they’re allowed to charge a reasonable fee to cover the costs of copying, saving, and mailing the information.

These fees vary from provider to provider and state to state. You may be charged a separate fee for digital copies or film copies of x-rays and MRIs, the fee you can be required to pay may be capped at a certain amount, or there may not be a fee at all when the records are transmitted from one medical provider to another (so, you’ll be charged only if you’re receiving the records personally), etc. – check with your state’s medical board and ask your doctor to find out specific details.

Good to know: If your doctor keeps electronic health records, you may be able to access your medical information online and make your own copies, free of charge.

How long does it take to transfer medical records?

Transferring medical records can take some time (especially if you have multiple records to track down from different providers). Therefore, you’re strongly advised to start the process at least one month before moving.

Under the HIPAA law, medical providers have 30 days to complete your request and give you copies of your records (or send them to your new doctor). If they are unable to do so, they need to provide you with a written notice explaining why there was a delay and when you can expect to receive your records.

Keep in mind that transferring medical records isn’t a high priority in a doctor’s office, so you should think of it well in advance. Ideally, you should choose your new doctor a month or so before moving day and get your medical records transferred to their office before you need to visit them.

How to transfer medical records to another state?

As already mentioned, when moving, you can either take copies of your medical records with you or have them sent to your new doctor.

It is generally considered a better idea to have your medical records with you – it will be very handy in case of an emergency. Besides, there’s no guarantee how long your records will be kept at doctors’ offices, so it’s important to have a copy of your health information for yourself.

Keep in mind though that you will be most likely charged a fee for obtaining a personal copy of your records. What’s more, bringing your medical records with you means even more paperwork to keep track of during the hectic moving process. You need to keep your documents safe and make sure they don’t get lost or fall in the hands of identity thieves – store paper copies in a waterproof, lockable container, keep electronic data on a password-protected device, and back up your records (scan them and e-mail the copies to yourself and/or store them in the cloud) in case something happens to your paper copies or electronic files during transit.

It is also advisable to take the lockbox, containing your important documents (including your medical records) with you rather than entrust it to the movers (See also: What items to move myself).

If you want to have your medical records sent directly to your new health provider, you need to have already selected a doctor in your new area. You will have to sign a release form and may or may not be required to pay a small administration fee for the transfer. There will be a bit less paperwork to worry about during your move but you will have no control over the process and no personal copy of your medical information.

Good to know: Once you get a copy of your medical records (or have it sent to a third party), your health provider is no longer responsible for the security of your medical information.

If you have already moved, you can still get your medical records transferred to your new provider (you can request the transfer via mail or e-mail or your new doctor may request it for you), but you may face some serious problems if you happen to need medical assistance in the meantime.

So, be careful not to overlook any details when planning your move and have your medical records transferred in due time – this will ensure that you receive safe and effective health care in your new area.


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