So you were in an accident, and now the insurance adjuster from the other driver's insurance is asking you to sign a medical records release form. They might even tell you that they require it to be signed. Do you have to sign it?
The short answer is no. In fact, signing the first form they present you with is probably not to your benefit. Read on to find out how to handle this situation.
A medical records release form allows a medical provider to release information about your diagnosis and care to a third party. This information is generally heavily protected in the United States under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA prevents medical providers from sharing private health information without prior written permission.
A records release form can serve as that written permission. Signing one allows the insurance company to access your private health information.
Your medical records include notes from previous doctor's visits, prescriptions, diagnoses, notes about your recovery, and more. Anything you've ever mentioned to a doctor (and some things you might not have mentioned but the doctor has observed) can be part of this record.
The existence of these records isn't, in and of itself, problematic. In fact, if you're switching to a new doctor you want as complete a medical record as you can get so your new doctor doesn't need to repeat tests or take a long medical history.
The problem is that if someone gets access to your medical record, they will have a huge amount of private, sensitive information about you and your health. A blanket medical records release form, without any limitations placed on it, will provide information on any prior illnesses, surgeries, and medications, regardless of their bearing on your current situation. It's carte blanche to dig through your private history – and some insurance companies will use this to try to find reasons not to pay you what you deserve.
HIPAA protections are widely misunderstood. They don't prevent anyone from sharing health information about you. Instead, they limit certain types of organizations (called "covered entities") from sharing health information about you without your express permission. These covered entities include health insurance plans, most medical providers, and healthcare clearinghouses, which standardize medical information (for example, converting a written record into an electronic record).
There are certain groups that these covered entities can share your information with, such as their lawyers or IT staff.
Employers, most school districts, and law enforcement, among others, are not required to protect any health information they might have about you. Neither are car insurance providers. This means that if you sign a release for an insurance provider, they're under no obligation to keep what they discover confidential.
If you'd like to learn more, check out the Health and Human Services website.
In order to make payment for your injuries, the other driver's insurance company may need access to some of your records – the ones pertaining directly to your accident. You are not required, at the outset, to provide any medical records pertaining to pre-existing conditions.
There may be several reasons the other driver's insurance company is requesting your medical records. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, they do need to know some of the information in order to pay your medical bills. However, they might also be looking for information that can help them deny your claim. If you sign a general release of records form for them, you may provide them with the ammunition they need to deny you or to drag out settlement.
There are two ways this can be accomplished. You should consult with a lawyer prior to signing any paperwork, including a records release.
You can ask your doctor for any records pertaining to injuries from your accident, and then provide these directly to the insurance company (or have your attorney provide them). The advantage of this method is that you'll be able to see exactly what information your insurance company is receiving.
The other option is to sign a limited release of medical records form. If you choose this option, make sure that you specify that the only records you're providing access to are the ones directly related to your insurance. This option is often faster, and you won't have to be involved in the transfer of the information from your doctor to the insurance company. However, if you do this, you'll want to have an attorney look over the form before you sign it, to make sure that it's correct and that you're not giving away any of your rights.
Do you need a lawyer? We can help. In fact, you can find out if you're eligible in just a few minutes, online. If you're dealing with a request to sign a records release form (or if you've been in an accident and don't know where to get started), click start your claim here.