“After I got the final denial for disability, I read the judge’s letter. It said my psychiatrist wrote that my Bipolar was ‘in remission.’ She had been writing notes like this for two years, the whole time I was applying for disability. I had no idea.” – SO
Collecting and reading your medical records is one of the best things you can do to help your disability case.
Unfortunately, sometimes people have difficulty getting copies of their mental health records.
For physical health, doctors are legally required to release all your records to you. For mental health, the laws are trickier and in some cases the doctor’s office may not release your records to you directly for “your own protection.”
In some cases, you may just decide to make peace with this. If you have talked to your psych doctor and you feel confident that she completely supports your disability application, and your doctor has willing filled out a Mental RFC form and showed you everything written, then you may decide to just live without reading the full records.
On the other hand, if you are scrappy and motivated, or if you are not really sure what your doc might be writing, here are some workarounds:
💮 Some doctors have online portals where you can view your records. Unfortunately these are usually not your full records and will not show you what your doctor is writing about you.
💮 To start out, of course, you can try just requesting your records. If they hand you “office summaries” or “visit summaries” they are not giving you your records. If they have you sign forms and pay money, then they are giving you your records! Many doctors won’t release psych records this way, but it is worth trying.
💮 If that doesn’t work, you can try talking directly to your doctor instead of the office staff. The office staff may have a generic office policy not to release records to any patients. If you talk directly to your doctor and let her know why you would like the records and reassure her that you feel prepared and ready to read your records and would appreciate her help, she may make an exception and release them to you.
💮 If that still doesn’t work, they may be denying your records for your own protection. This rule is often misused. According to HIPAA regulations 45 CFR 164.524, psych docs should only be denying your records under “very limited” circumstances. The guidelines state that HIPAA expects these circumstances to be “extremely rare.” If your doctor’s office routinely denies records, you can try writing a letter and sending it certified mail:
- stating your request for full medical records and treatment notes (if you receive any psych testing, you can also request any test results and test data)
- quoting the above regulations, and requesting information on the “extremely rare” circumstances involved in your case
- requesting information on their procedure for having this decision reviewed by “a licensed health care professional who did not participate in the original decision to deny access”
- requesting information on how you may submit a complaint to the HHS Office for Civil Rights
- requesting that they separate out any specific records that have decided to deny you access to for your own protection, and that they provide you with copies of all other records.
💮 Alternately you can try meeting directly with your doctor and/or the records manager and discuss some of the points mentioned above.
💮 If you are applying for disability, you can try getting your case file on CD from Social Security. Social Security will sometimes include all your psych records and sometimes will not. It may depend on who happens to make your CD. Learn more
💮 You can try getting your case file from your lawyer. If you are in an appeal stage, your lawyer will collect your medical records. Some lawyers wait til the last minute to do this, so you may need to be persistent.
💮 For appeals: You can try contacting the judge’s office (this is called ODAR). If you have a hearing soon and do not have a lawyer, you can contact the ODAR office and make arrangements for them to collect your records for you. Then you can contact them again and request a copy of your CD. Once again, they may or may not put your psych records on the CD.
💮 For new applications: You can try contacting the person deciding your case (this is called Disability Examiner). You can stay in touch with your disability examiner and continue to contact your doctor until you are certain that all of your psych records have been received. Then you have to do nothing and wait. After a decision has been made, you can request a copy of your case file on CD.
💮 For reconsiderations: : You can try contacting the person deciding your case. You can stay in touch with your disability examiner and continue to contact your doctor until you are certain that all of your psych records have been received. Then you have to do nothing and wait. After a decision has been made, you can request a copy of your case file on CD or through your lawyer.
💮 You can also try giving up. For some people, reading their psych records really is very upsetting or even harmful. If this might be you, it may be better to let this one go.
💮 Records can be expensive. Here’s some tips on How to Get Your Medical Records without Paying an Arm and a Leg
💮 For more tips on getting records, and how to make sure you get all your records, see: How to Collect All Your Medical Records (Keyword: All)
Updated August 2017. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.