“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.”
💮 To start out, of course, you can try just contacting your doctor’s office and requesting your records. They may have a form for you to sign.
💮 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.
💮 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.
Accepting No For An Answer
💮 In some cases, you may just decide to make peace with not getting your records. 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.
💮 Some mental health doctors don’t send full records to Social Security. They will send summary of records, plus possibly write a letter or statement about your condition and treatment. If your doc is not sending the full records to Social Security, then you may not need to see them all either.
💮 On the other hand, if you are scrappy and motivated, or if you are not really sure what your doc might be writing, below are some workarounds.
Appointing a Personal Representative
💮 Some people have had success getting their records by requesting they be sent to a “representative.” A representative can be a lawyer, or it can be anyone you choose to be your personal representative and examine your records – for example a trusted friend or family member.
💮 You can ask if there is a form to assign a personal representative, or you can try listing your personal representative on the records release form as where to send records and see if it goes through.
Talking to Your Doctor
💮 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 psych 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.
💮 Some doctor’s offices will deny you your records “for your own protection.” While this is a valid, legal rule, it is also often misused.
💮 Many of our readers report that office staff people simply told them that they could not get copies of their records, without any actual review of their case.
💮 According to HIPAA’s guidance on Individuals’ Right Under HIPAA to Access their Health Information, psych docs should only be denying your records under “very limited” circumstances. The guidelines also 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. Sample Request for Mental Health Records to Be Released Under HIPAA
💮 Alternately you can try meeting directly with your doctor and/or the records manager and discuss some of these points.
Asking for a Review
💮 If your doctor denies your request for records, according to HIPAA regulations 45 CFR 164.524, you have the right to request a third party review of the decision.
💮 If you request a review, the doctor’s office must provide a review by “a licensed health care professional who did not participate in the original decision to deny access”
💮 You also have the right to submit a complaint to the HHS Office for Civil Rights
Contacting Social Security
💮 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
💮 The CD is only available for reconsiderations and appeals. Not for initial applications.
💮 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.
Working with a Lawyer
💮 You can request that your doctor release records directly to your lawyer. On the records release form write your lawyers name.
💮 If your lawyer has already collected your records, you can try getting asking for a copy of your case file and all your records from your lawyer.
💮 Many lawyers do not collect records during initial applications and appeals.
💮 If you are in an appeal stage, your lawyer should collect your medical records. Some lawyers wait til the last minute to do this, and sometimes important records are missing, so you may need to be persistent.
Important: Staying In Touch
Even if you don’t get all your records, it’s still important that Social Security gets them all:
💮 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. How to Stay In Touch with Your Disability Examiner
💮 For reconsideration: 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.
💮 For hearing appeals: You can work with your lawyer to make sure all your records are collected. If you are unable to get a lawyer, you can work directly with the judge’s office (called ODAR).
💮 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 2019. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working.