You Too Can Access Your Mental Health Records
It is your right by law to know what science thinks of you
Henry Braun
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Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) you have a right to inspect and obtain a copy of your medical and mental health records. If you disagree with what is written you have a right to have your own version inserted into your record next to the provider’s version. The provider or clinic has a right to charge a “reasonable fee” for the cost of providing this access.
In one clinic, the fee was twenty dollars plus seventy-five cents for each page copied. The clinic however cannot deny you access if you claim you cannot afford the fee. They must provide this access within a reasonable amount of time that is normally two weeks from the date of the request. If they give you a problem with this, you can call the City of New York at (212) 504 4115 if you are calling from outside of the city or dial 311 anywhere in the five boroughs. The complaint will be filed and sent to the appropriate office and you should expect a response by mail or by phone within three weeks. Be sure to remember the confirmation number from the operator in case you have to call again.
You should first request a copy of your mental health records from your social worker or psychiatrist who has to approve it. If s/he denies approval, the request goes to the clinic’s director who may override the decision. If the clinic’s director agrees with your service provider, you should receive a response explaining why you were denied.
The only legal reason to deny someone access to their mental health records is if having that access may cause a patient to harm him or herself or others. Again, you can call the City of New York to complain. Again, if you gain access to your records you have the right to have your own version inserted into the record. You should have the exact dates of service for which you want your records.
According to a Privacy Officer at a major New York City hospital, denial of access to one’s mental health records rarely happens.
Another useful number is the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the HIPAA law. Their New York City number is (212) 264-3313.
Henry Braun is a freelance research advocate in entitlement and mental health issues.
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