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What Are My Rights to My Dental Health Records?

Here I explain what your rights are for getting a copy of your health records from your dentist and exactly how to do it.

by Dr. Burhenne

What Are My Rights to My Dental Health Records?

Without dental records that follow you around for life, your future care will be compromised.

Q:

My dentist suddenly closed his practice and subsequently transferred his health records and files to another dental practice with which I am not interested in pursuing a relationship. What are my rights to my health records, and what is the appropriate procedure for getting them from the new dentist?

A: Under a federal law called HIPAA, you have the right to receive copies of your health information from your dentist (as well as other doctors and providers).

Those health records are yours and you have the right to have access to that entire file, including the financials, the treatment plan, X-rays, and everything else it contains.

As for the procedure to obtain a copy of your file, it should be the same as if you were requesting the file from your current dentist, which I’ll outline for you here.

What your rights are to your health records under HIPAA:

Your dentist cannot deny you a copy of your records because you have not paid for the services you received.

Your dentist may not have all of your records available immediately, especially if he or she is using a paper-based system, so it might take a while to fulfill your request.

If your dentist refuses to comply with your request, they must supply an explanation in writing.

How much is a normal fee to retrieve my health records?

Under HIPAA, your dentist is permitted to charge you for copying, mailing, or printing the records. This fee must be reasonable and cost-based — I would say no more than $15 or $20.

If part of your request is a summary or an explanation of your health records, your dentist may also charge a fee for preparation of the summary or explanation.

What the fee may not include is the cost of searching for or retrieving the records. This is the responsibility of your dentist.

If you’re interested in the fine print, here is the complete list of federal regulations for requesting your health records.

How to request your health records from your dentist

I recommend you make a request for your complete file so that you can transfer this in full to your new dentist.

You can ask for any or all types of information in your medical records, including:
summaries of office visits

  • diagnoses
  • the dentists’ notes
  • laboratory results
  • medication information
  • images (X-rays, MRIs, etc.)
  • account and billing information

Contact the dentist to ask about what their procedure is to request these files.

How long should it take to receive my health records?

HIPAA stipulates that if you do not receive your information in a “timely manner,” you can register a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, but who knows what they see as a “timely manner.”

If you’re getting the run around or if you feel the office is taking too long or mishandling the request, I would recommend contacting your local dental society or the dental society for your state and ask that same question.

If the laws in your state differ from federal laws, then dentists and providers must follow whichever laws provide you with the most rights.

Getting high quality copies of your health records

Your current dentist should help you to determine whether the new file is of diagnostic quality and let you know if you need to contact the previous dentist to have additional higher quality copies made.

Ask your new dentist about the procedure for obtaining your health records because a day may come where you move away or change dentists yet again and you will want to know that your dentist shares this philosophy that your health records belong to you and that you have a right to have these records follow you around.

Any situation less than that is unacceptable because, without those records, your future care will be compromised.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Sources

http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/faq/right_to_access_medical_records/353.html
http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/consumers/medicalrecords.html
http://www.healthit.gov/patients-families/accessing-your-health-information

Juggling all the pieces of your health is hard...

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Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS

35 Comments

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  1. Thanks for the information! I found the tips about what to do to get my dental records in a timely manner very insightful. Like you said, it seems difficult to know exactly what the HIPAA means by “timely manner” once I’ve filed a request for my records. About how long does it typically take for me to get them in the mail? It would help knowing how long it usually takes other people to get their dental health records to know how long I should anticipate waiting for them.

    • Yes, unfortunately “timely manner” is pretty vague, isn’t it? I don’t think it should take, at maximum, more than a week or two. In my private practice, we turn this sort of thing around in a matter of days.

      • Sadly to say, I am having my experience with HIPAA/OCR office. Are 6 months since they initiated an “investigation” following my request for assistance to get my medical records from a prior dentist. Nevertheless, I have been asking for these records, paid by me, since 2012. There are laws but nobody, absolutely nobody respects them or enforce them.

        • You need to call the previous dental office yourself and have them emailed to you. Then you can send them to your new dentist. This is the easiest way all around.

  2. These are some great tips and for your insight on this Mark! I have run into my share share of issues with clients requesting dental records — At the moment we outsource all these tasks as we are a relatively new practise.
    What is your view on outsourcing?

    Thanks for your time
    John

    • John, outsourcing seems to be a more common practice as dentists love to do dentistry but have no training in management of a practice. I think in high volume practices, it works fine because it increases the overhead so you need to have production to cover these costs.

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  8. Thanks for the info, but I still hate that a dentist can charge me $20 for my own X-rays. Especially when the only reason I had to go else where was because I couldn’t afford there services after my initial exam for a root canal.

    • This is how I ended up here. You go to a dentist, they take X-rays and examine your teeth and charge your insurance company, but if you want a second opinion, you either have to be exposed to X-rays again and charged or ask the first dentist for your X-rays which they can charge for – I haven’t asked yet, but I’m anticipating they’re going to charge about $25. It’s a racket and a scam.

  9. Hi doctor, thank you so much for this post. I am getting lied to by my dentist’s office saying that “by law” they can only send my dental records to another dentist, NOT give them to ME personally. And guess what? Each time they provide that “service” for me, it will cost me $25!!! I have already told them that I know my rights under HIPAA law and they still want to cop an attitude with me and won’t budge! Their cash prices are worse than having insurance so I want to move to another dentist, but not have to pay for another recent x-ray! Please help, what should I do?!?!

    • Call your local dental society in your county. If he’s a member let me know. We’ll take it from there.

      Composed on my phone. Please excuse the brevity and any typos.

      Dr. Mark Burhenne | AsktheDentist.com Read reviews for The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox Facebook | Twitter | YouTube (408) 737-2100

      Schedule a Skype or phone consultation with me

      • Dr. Mark Burhenne, I’m reaching out to you for assistance. My mother was receiving Dental treatment from a Dentist that provided poor dental work and unethically recommended treatments that should not have been performed as per confirmation from (3) highly rated oral surgeons after consultations. My mother developed a terrible infection in her mouth and an abscess. Now she is under care of a brilliant oral surgeon who is correcting all the work that was done for which we are paying additional out of pocket for these multiple procedures. We requested on 4 occasions from her by phone the dental records and x-rays and she keeps pushing us off and telling us she is busy, when she gets to it. I read online about HIPPA policies and patient bill of rights, but do not know how to proceed ??? Can you please advise.. This dentist seems to be uncooperative. Roman

  10. So my previous dentist’s practice got bought out by another dentist. The new dentist office / staff tried to schedule me for a cleaning / exam without even mentioning this fact. When I found out, I asked for my records. They said ok, but they must charge me $35 for this, which I thought was quite excessive. Is there a limit to what they can charge?

  11. Good article! It is good to remember that, under HIPAA, those records belong to the patient, even if all bills have not been settled out yet.

  12. I have been going to this dentist for years and was in my insurance network but found out now she is not and she charged me the maximum for crowns over 11,000 dollars and I have been in pain and wanted to get a second opinion. I contacted another dentists office and they called for my dental records and my dentist refused to give them. It seems now every time I go there they bill me and feel have been overcharged for my dental work and want to find out how can I get my dental records and what can I do if they refuse to give to me.

    • Did you sign a release form giving them permission to transfer the records? If all the old office has to go on is a phone call from the new dentist, legally they can’t release the records. They don’t have any proof it’s really your request. This has happened in my office before and I understand why it’s frustrating for the patient, but if I can’t prove later that you gave me permission to send your private health information to someone else (more than just a “he said / she said” proof), I am in violation of HIPPA. This may be why they are “refusing” to transfer records.

  13. My child’s orthodontic office was purchased, I don’t wish to continue my child’s treatment under the new doctor. I have inquired to have my child’s records picked up and transfer his treatment to another office. The new doctor is telling me that my account was sold and I am financially responsible to pay him my complete balance, even though I have not seen the new doctor and don’t plan on having him continue the treatment. Am I financially responsible to pay my account off with a doctor that won’t be treating my child?

  14. Recently I have been in dentist office, they took my teeth x-ray and I took a a picture of my x-ray from the monitor, the dental hygienist told me its illegal to snap an x-ray, I was like shocked “what the hell” this is my own teeth, “how it’s illegal” she said even it’s your’s its illegal to take pic of x-ray from monitor.

    I did not really understand the HIPPA regulations about this, can you please explain it to me, how it’s illegal.

    Thanks

  15. We recently had a 16 year old come in to our office and request his/her dental records. What is the age requirement or is there an age requirement? This child was not with a parent at the time of the request and is on the parents account in our system.

  16. My problem right now is not so much the timeliness as the cost. An orthodontist wants $300 to transfer my wife’s records to her current orthodontist. Is that normal?

  17. I am asking for emailing me high resolution XRays from my dentist office which they are refusing. They have given me just a poor resolution photocopy of the xrays and images they have clicked.
    How can I get the details in the email ?

    • I’d contact the local dental society in the county that the dentist practices in. Also have your new dentist call for the high rez versions so he can do a better job diagnosing. Sometimes a personal call can make the difference. I’ve had to do that and it has worked every time. To bad you have to be so diligent to get what you have already paid for. DrB

  18. This is a very interesting thread. I would like to add my peculiar story as well. My dentist referred me to a perio. The perio had me get comphrehensive xrays and did a complete exam. When i found out the approx cost i got dental insurance. The perio then needed a referral from my dentist to finalize the quote and start the proceedure but wouldnt accept the referral becsuse my dentist was hmo. So i call the assigned hmo and he agrees that another consultation and more x rays are unessesary and says he will give the referral without me having to go there and pay for a pointless visit. Just send him my x rays and dental chart he said and he will make the referral. Nice guy huh? But for some reason the perio does not want to send the dentist my chart. They cancelled my upcoming adapt and said it can take weeks to get the referral. Why? my gums need attention! . This delay is preposterous and compromising my health. They have my insurance info. Why can they not give me a quote or release my chart? She was not pleased at all when I asked her for it. Something is fishy. Does the perio who wants to charge me 9 grand have something to hide? What is with this impossible referral?

  19. Do x-rays taken at a “free consultation” still fall under the HIPAA? For example, Dentist #1 took a full pano of x-rays. I go to Dentist #2 for a second opinion and Dentist #1 refuses to send over my x-rays. Is this legal?

    • Not legal! These are your health records and X-rays wether or not your dentist decided to charge u for them! You are being exposed to unnecessary radiation because your previous dentist does not want to give them to you.

      drb

  20. Great article. I am 30 years old now and want my old dental records when I was 4-10 years old. I don’t go to that office anymore and haven’t gone for over 20 years. I called their office and they said they don’t keep records for more than 7 years after the last patient visit. They told me they disposed them. Is there a law about how long you can keep records before disposal? I would really like these records as I had much dental work as a child and would like to know what was done. Thanks.

    • @Joe – Yes.
      Per an ADA pub re HIPAA:
      “State laws and participating provider contracts generally specify the time following the last patient visit that records must be maintained. There is usually a different requirement for the retention of records of children; these records must be kept for a certain period after the child reaches the age of majority. HIPAA also affects recordkeeping requirements for offices that are covered by generally requiring that such offices maintain patient records for six (6) years and two (2) years after a patient’s death. The dental office should have a records retention policy and all
      staff should understand it. The office’s professional liability insurance company will likely have recommendations about retention.”

  21. Thank you Dr. Burhenne for info regarding the HIPPA and its application to patient data availability. You are helping empower the patient and ultimately helping with the smooth flow of info to the provider, too. We patients can have memory lapses of our past care and being able to consolidate our data and paint a continuous picture of our care through the years often helps. Thank you again.

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