How do I get my complete/lifetime medical record?

This is in the US.

Inspired in part by this recent thread regarding records, how do I obtain a complete record/disclosure of my medical history, especially in cases where I do not remember or was too young to remember what doctors I saw, what diagnoses were made, or what treatments were provided?

This thread seems to presume that the curious patient knows what doctors they have seen (but just doesn’t know how to ask for the records), but how do you obtain records when you aren’t sure what doctor it was? I have a pretty good idea of what doctors I have seen as an adult, but I don’t remember how many doctors I saw as a child, and my family also lived in more than one area and also did some traveling so there could be a doctor I saw once or a few times in some other town when I was three years old.

In terms of the report, I would be ok with either obtaining copies of the medical files themselves (wow, this handwriting is 30 years old, and think of how small I was!), or a condensed list of dates with doctors seen, conditions diagnosed, or treatments ordered, e.g.:

1/3/1982: Dr. James Jones, Podunk, WI: Ear infection, Prescribed 10mg penicillin twice a day for two weeks.
6/25/1985: Dr. Ann Matthews, Farmville, CA: Evaluation for chronic cough, no specific diagnosis made, recommended that cough be monitored and that patient return if it gets worse.
8/6/1987: Dr. Victor McGee, Gordon, MA: Laceration to leg, applied bandages, recommended no physical education in school for one week.


Could I get this information by ordering some kind of background check on myself? I know that medical information is normally considered confidential here and is subject to strict disclosure rules, but in this case I would be consenting to have my records disclosed to myself.

Phone around to the doctors that you do remember, and see if you can find one whose receptionist is not a nazi, or whose nurse is not named Ratchet. Ask her how much has been gathered into the records your present doctor has, or is theoretically available to him. If anybody knows about access to your records, a doctor’s office does.

In my case, I’ve been on Medicare for 20 years, and they have records of everything during that time which they will disclose upon request, even on the phone… So if you had insurance, they would have records, too.

I sounds like you’re asking about the Ministry of Medical Information. You won’t find them in the phonebook, but they hang out with the NSA and CIA.

I don’t think it can be done. we collect medical records every day for our clients. There is no way to get them all, except for people with really good memory, (or if they’re young enough) or very few providers. I know there is no way I could ever get a complete copy of all my medical records. Those over 30 years old were probably shredded years ago.

Some background check forms (e.g. for professional licensure, joining the military, etc.), ask you to disclose your medical history. E.g. somewhere, the form says, “Do you have or have you ever had… transhemispherical dysplasia?..oxyphenolic hyperepistemological inflamitis?..neonatal psychosis?..cancer of any polyhemic area?..uvulate of the nephrocortex?”

What I want is to fill out a background check form (name, SSN, DOB, names of parents, etc.), and get back a form telling me whether or not I have ever been diagnosed with transhemispherical dysplasia.

With all the talk about the health care informatics revolution, I would have hoped that this sort of thing would be possible nowadays. Sure, no background check is 100% certain, but is there some sort of check that covers diagnoses and procedures done by 95% of the doctors in the US?

There is no centralized database that doctors supply their patients records to. You would need to contact every medical provider, hospital, etc, that you were a patient for, and hope that they haven’t already destroyed your patient records and compile it yourself. I guess you could give someone else your power of attorney to solicit that same information and they could attempt to gather it for you.

Nope, there isn’t. And isn’t likely to be one anytime in the near future.

Tangental question: do countries with centralized health care systems have a central data base containing everyone’s birth-to-death health records? Or at least doctors there having access to said records even if they are in more than one place?

It’s easy to see why this would not exist yet in the US, but what about elsewhere?

If you can remember all the health insurers you’ve had, you can probably get payout ledgers. Those will show the provider names and dates, though probably not beyond 20 years.

A large part of my job is discovery in medical litigation. The customary retention period is seven years around here. Unless (1) you treated at a large hospital that went microfiche-crazy in the 70s/80s and hasn’t found a better use for that space; (2) your family practice is slowly dying and has empty rooms for storage; or (3) you live in one of a very few states which require patient notification prior to destruction of obsolete records, you just aren’t going to find records from earlier than 1990ish.

Medical Malpractice groups recommend storing patient records 7-10 years. That isn’t the company we went with when my husband went private practice, but I seem to recall the same numbers.

I don’t believe that the feds mandate any duration for retaining general pt records, but each state may have requirements. However, CMS, the body in charge of Medicare, requires that the provider or group hangs on to them for at least 6 years.

In other words, you are probably SOL trying to figure out if you had a tetanus shot in 2003, especially having switched docs more than once, let alone obtaining “complete” medical records. In practice, both professionally and personally, I have found that hospitals tend to keep records longer than your average physician’s office. Now, actually obtaining those records–or in a usable form–may be a bit of a pain.

I have attempted to reconstruct even a partial medical history for myself and have found it impossible, even with the help of my mother back when her memory was firm and reliable.

It can’t be done.

As noted, anything older than 30 years is irretrievable. Maybe some hospitals hold onto information indefinitely but for darn certain clinics and individual doctor practices do not.

This is quite annoying when I get a request that starts with “Have you EVER…” which does happen. Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t. Maybe I did but I can’t prove it.

I’ve been ask to document several times my allergy to flu vaccine. Problem is, the diagnostic testing was over 35 years ago now and the information irretrievable. So… do I submit to a flu shot, endure a potential bout of anaphylaxis, or continue to argue with my insurer?

There does seem to be an assumption nowadays that we all have access to a complete and documented history. Just ain’t possible for most of us.

This is really the reason why this is so annoying. I, personally, don’t really have a need to know (beyond idle curiosity) whether or not I was evaluated and/or treated for digestive issues as an infant or for chronic sinus infections at age six. The problem is that forms (e.g. the “have you EVER…”) assume I have some way to find this information.

Perhaps one way could be to actually apply for some sort of license or opportunity that requires a Fitness For Duty/medical background check (that starts with a long-ass questionnaire asking “Have you EVER…had <disease>…<other disease>…”), answer NO to all questions, then wait for a letter to come back saying, “Mr. robert_columbia, we are sorry to report that you have failed your background check. You stated that you never had a diagnosis of any digestive disorder, but we found a record from the Emergency Walk-In Clinic in Bumtown, Kansas where your parents took you at age two-and-a-half while driving across country to California to see your Aunt Suzie (Susan J. Derkins-Smith). You were diagnosed with Traveler’s Digestive Syndrome II and prescribed a course of neooxymethane treatment. Best of luck in your future endeavors, The Background Check Department.”

I can tell you from personal experience and knowledge that it doesn’t work like that. Oh, sure, they asked for absolutely everything when I applied for a pilot’s license, but they pretty much just take your word for it unless, for instance, you claim no incidence of seizures ever then have a grand mal in the middle of your flight physical.

Now, if you answer “no” to everything on your form for a pilot’s license THEN have an accident maybe the resulting investigation will uncover something… but I sort of doubt it, unless someone, somewhere, held onto the record longer than 20-25 years.

1 You’ll probably be able to go back as long as you’ve been using a particular doctor/practice/clinic. Those record retention rules are generally “X years after last treatment”, so if you started seeing a doctor in 1988 and are still using that same doctor ( or a doctor who bought that practice) today your records will go back to 1988.

2 Generally speaking, job aplications and such ask if you’ve ever been diagnosed with fairly major and/or chronic issues. It’s not likely that you were diagnosed with epilepsy at three and your mother never told you or that you forgot you were diagnosed with diabetes ten years ago. They don’t ask about chronic sinus infections when you were two or digestive problems when you were eight. Doctor’s new patient intake forms might ask about those things, but doctors also realize people can’t always answer all the questions on those.-

If you aren’t very old you may be able to get a record of every prescription, test, and medical procedure you’ve ever had, along with every insurance claim filed. The rest of it will be doctor’s notes which are not necessarily very useful information, and in cases where they are important usually you would have that information already. For old geezers like me it might be difficult or impossible to get any information from far enough back. That could affect people who had childhood diseases, or as happens more commonly, there is no complete vaccination record. Also, ask your mom, she may have thrown away all those valuable toys that are now collector items, but maybe kept all that medical info about her precious snowflake.

In the UK we end up with several files. Whenever you sign up with a new GP, they will write off to your previous one and have then send over your history. Of course this is culmulative throughout your life.

Hospital records are different and each one keeps the file they have for you for at least 8 years after treatment. In practice they keep them a lot longer than that, and transfer them to microfiche after that.

If I wanted to dig up all the files on me, My GP would have all the records relating to GPs, including the letters they get after treatment at a hospital. Each hospital may still have the records, but they would probably charge me for the trouble of copying them.

It is only since the 90s that we had any right to even see the records - I have seen stories where GPs wrote on the notes “This idiot is a waste of time” or words to that effect.

OTOH, any pre-existing condition one has would end up disappearing over the horizon at some point (not that it matters as much any more). I assume if the average person has such a hard time collecting this information, any insurance interest would also not be able to gather it. Maybe that is not a good assumption?

It’s not like there is something analogous to Experian or Equifax (credit history) for health records, is there?

Or no one can remember anymore exactly when you had the chicken pox…

Yeah, I used to do that. Back when mom was still alive. Kind of hard to do now that she’s gone. Mom was the repository of all that. At one point we all kind of realized that 1) this sort of thing is asked for more and more and 2) mom wasn’t going to be around forever. Mom was able to provide me with a partial childhood vaccination record, but the rest of it was gone after a dozen moves between five different states and several decades of time.

Likewise, I no longer have the documentation of all the allergy testing I had done when I was 14 and there is absolutely no way to retrieve it. I’ve been asked for it multiple times and I just can’t provide it. As allergies are my biggest chronic health problem this has been… annoying.

I now ask for copies of my medical records, tests, and results but I only have that back about 20-25 years. Half or slightly less of my lifetime.

It’s a valid assumption. I’ve run into this problem with my lifetime of allergies. I’ll spare everyone the detailed anecdotes unless they really want to hear it.

Nope. At least not at this point.

No, but there is a sort of CarFax for people. ISO and a few other companies keep records of insurance claims - auto accidents, work accidents, and the like. They don’t have the records, but they’ll generally have information like what body parts were involved.