Rights and Responsibilities Regarding Medical Records in California, Part III

In our last two installments, we discussed the circumstances under which a health care provider is and is not required to provide you access to your medical records.  Today, we will look at what you can do if you are entitled to access, but your provider is unable or unwilling to provide it to you.
If your provider refuses to grant you access to your records, you have two options:

    1. You can file a complaint with the Medical Board of California.  You can find a Consumer Complaint form, along with information about completing and filing it, at the Medical Board’s website.[1]  This will most likely be your most time and cost efficient remedy.
    2. In the alternative, or if the Medical Board is unsuccessful, you can sue your provider in Superior Court to force them to turn over your records.  If you prevail, you may be awarded attorney’s fees and costs.[2]  However, court proceedings are lengthy, often expensive, and inherently unpredictable.

We recommend that you pursue a complaint with the Medical Board before taking any further action.
Inability to Provide
If your provider closes their practice or becomes disabled, incarcerated, or deceased, you may still be able to obtain access to your records.  Prior to closing their practice, your provider should do the following:

  • Notify you of the upcoming changes.  The California Medical Association recommends that this be done by a letter from the physician sent to you via certified mail with return receipt requested.  They further recommend that physicians place an advertisement in a newspaper in order to notify patients that may have had a change of address.
    • Notify you of where your records will be stored and how you may access them.[3]

If your provider does not do the following before closing their practice and you are unable to locate them, the Medical Board recommends the following courses of action[4]:

  • Contact your county medical society – they may have contact information for the physician or know if another physician took over their practice.
  • Contact the Medical Board’s Consumer Information Unit – 1-800-633-2322 – or check their website to obtain the physician’s address of record.  Even deceased physicians will still have an address.  If you write to them at that address, and your records are still available, the will be responsible for providing you your records within 15 days.
  • Contact the probate department of your county superior court to see if the physician’s estate is being administered through the court.  If there is an executor or trustee, their contact information will be in the court file.  You can then contact them to obtain the status of the physician’s records and request a copy if they have not yet been destroyed.

[1] https://mbc.ca.gov/consumer/complaint_info.html
[2] California Health and Safety Code section 123120
[3] https://www.mbc.ca.gov/licensee/close_practice.html
[4] https://www.mbc.ca.gov/consumer/complaint_info_questions_records.html#12