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May 2004
03
May 03, 2004

New Statute Grants Patients Access to Medical Records

Michigan's legislature has enacted a new medical records access statute. The law gives patients (or their lawful representatives) a right to inspect their medical records, or to get a copy of those records. The statute also specifies how much a provider (a health facility or practitioner) can charge for making copies of patient medical records.

The law was signed into law on April 1, 2004, and became effective immediately. In some ways, the law echoes provisions of the federal privacy regulations that became effective in 2003, though there are some differences.

Health care facilities like hospitals, surgical centers and nursing homes are all covered by the statute. Likewise, most individual licensed health care providers like physicians and dentists are covered. However, the statute excludes mental health providers and pharmacists.

Any competent adult patient can obtain a copy of his or her own medical records. Importantly, this is an individual right, not a family right. Neither the spouse nor any adult child of an adult patient have an automatic right to access the patient's medical record.

An adult patient can give written authorization to another adult to access the patient's medical record. Also, if a patient has a court-appointed guardian, the guardian has authority to access the patient's medical record or to authorize other people to obtain the medical record. Either parent of a minor child can get the child's medical record, whether or not the parent has custody over the child. A deceased patient's court-appointed personal representative and heirs all have the right to access the patient's medical record.

In general, if a patient or other authorized person makes a request to review or have a copy made of the patient's medical record, that request must be granted, normally within 30 days. The requester may ask simply to review the medical record, without having a copy made. In that case, the record must be made available to the requester during normal business hours.

Alternatively, if the patient or the patient representative asks for a copy of the record, then the provider must make a copy. The statute does not specify the form of the copy (paper or electronic). Instead, the statute says that the copies must be provided "as requested by the patient." With respect to copies requested in electronic format, there is probably an implied requirement that the electronic format be easily reproducible.

Under some circumstances, a provider may refuse to grant access to medical records. For example, a provider can withhold medical records from a patient if the provider determines that disclosure will have an adverse effect on the patient. In that case, though, if the patient requests, the provider must give the requested medical record to another health care provider or an attorney designated by the patient or the patient's authorized representative.

In general, a provider can charge $1 per page for copying the first twenty pages of a patient's record, with lower per-page amounts for subsequent pages, and can require payment before the copies are made. Indigent patients are entitled to one free paper copy of their records.

This statute is helpful in spelling out a provider's and patient's rights and responsibilities.

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Richard L. Bouma is a partner with Warner Norcross & Judd LLP and he focuses his practice in the area of health law and is the chair of the Firm's Health Law Practice Group. Rich may be reached in the Grand Rapids office at 616.752.2159. Warner Norcross & Judd is a full-service law firm with offices in Grand Rapids, Metro Detroit, Holland and Muskegon. Because each business situation is different, this information is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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