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Etiquette for Requesting Electronic Health Records


In the modern age, everything moves at lightning speed. Ever since telegraph hand operators started transmitting messages at a then-blistering 25-40 words per minute, our technology has improved by leaps and bounds. In 1924, a fax machine could transmit a single sheet of paper in about 6 minutes, and today a standard email can send a 25 MB attachment in the blink of an eye with a message attached. At times, it can be easy to forget that there’s another human on the other side. 

Table of Contents

  1. Manners Matter 
  2. Making Phone Calls 
  3. Email and Other Digital Communication 
  4. Gathering Patient Information and Forms 
  5. Submitting Medical Records Requests to Healthcare Providers 
  6. Checking for Status Updates 
  7. Simplify Future Requests 

Manners Matter

No matter who you are interacting with or why you are doing it, everyone wants to feel heard and respected. This is true for professionals, friends, relatives, and strangers alike. Great manners and positive communication will take you far when requesting medical records, and they’re the most cost-effective way to speed up the release of information (ROI) process.

Medical records exchange is a collaborative effort between the requestor and the requestee. Everybody involved has a role to fulfill, and mistakes do happen. The right communicative skills can help reduce these errors and speed up corrections, however. 

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Making Phone Calls

The first telephone was invented in 1876, so the technology has been around longer than any of us. For some, talking on the phone is second nature, but for others it can be a very stressful part of their job. Regardless of who answers the phone, the following tips will make any phone calls throughout the medical records request easy:

  • Introduce yourself right away to make sure the person on the other line has the correct frame of reference. Provide your name, business if applicable, and reason for calling. 
  • Use a cheery voice to make sure that you convey the intended tone. Over the phone, without the help of facial cues, it can be easy to misconstrue the other person’s emotional state. 
  • Do not keep people waiting too long. Whether the phone is ringing, a voicemail has been left, or you have somebody on hold, you should be respectful of the other person’s time. 
  • Practice active listening and write down any information as it’s provided. Calls for information that’s already been given can be avoided, and can quickly frustrate the person receiving the call. 
  • Be honest, even if you have bad news. Putting off informing somebody of a negative situation will not help, and can oftentimes make things worse. Keep the other person in the loop, even if you know they will be upset. 
  • Speak clearly and use appropriate language. Avoid using slang or putting the phone on speaker to avoid any unnecessary confusion. 

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Email and Other Digital Communication

Conveying your intended tone via phone can be difficult, but email has another layer of separation. You must be careful when composing an email becuase it’s easy to come off as unprofessional, incompetant, or even rude. When writing an email, be sure to do the following:

  • Include a brief, informative subject. For example, if you are emailing a healthcare provider to submit a request, format it like “M Smith Medical Records Request” so it’s easy to identify if they need to come back to it. Additionally, this will help it get through spam filters, which block suspicious emails. 
  • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes. An email riddled with such errors is confusing and difficult to read, and sending one implies you didn’t care enough to put in the effort. Free plugins like Grammarly can help you make sure your message is clear. 
  • Be patient, but do not be afraid to follow up. Healthcare providers get busy, and occasionally emails will be forgotten. Based on urgency, give them a couple days to respond before sending another email. Be sure to send any follow up email as a reply to the original one so they do not need to search for it.
  • Keep it brief and separate information into paragraphs. A dense block of information is much harder to digest than several small bits. 

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Gathering Patient Information and Forms

If you are requesting medical records on behalf of a family member or a professional client, you need a signed and complete ROI authorization form. This includes the patient’s information, the nature and dates of treatment, and the patient’s signature. Because this single sheet of paper contains a lot of the data necessary for hackers to steal the patient’s identity, you must make them feel that their information is safe in your hands. 

To get the necessary form returned as quickly as possible and make the patient feel as comfortable as possible, try the following steps:

  • Ask the patient how they would like to handle the authorization form if you do not have access to a platform that offers simple electronic authorization. Typically, email will be the best option in this case, but some people may prefer to use fax or text to receive the form. Digital signatures are equal legally to physical signatures, so the main concern is protecting their information regardless of the method used.
  • Double-check authorization forms for accuracy so the patient can make necessary changes before the request is submitted. Failure to submit a valid form will always delay the release of medical records, so you’ll need to reach out to the patient again if there are any errors, and the sooner the better.
  • Keep the patient informed. Let them know when the request is submitted and when the records have been received. They are likely just as, if not more, anxious to get the records back, and will appreciate open communication. 

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Submitting Medical Records Requests to Healthcare Providers

Healthcare providers are obligated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to return requested records within 30 days, or 60 with written notice. In this time, large hospitals can receive hundreds if not thousands of other requests they must process. 

It’s important to do everything in your power to help make things run smoothly. Whether you are requesting records for yourself or somebody else, follow these tips to help them help you:

  • Triple-check authorization forms for accuracy to show that you respect the staff’s time. Reviewing authorization forms takes time, and any incorrect forms will be rejected. Additionally, if the staff does not realize that there is a mistake and fulfill the request, the healthcare provider may be opening themselves up to HIPAA violations.
  • Ask for their preferred method of submission if you are not using medical records exchange software. If they choose fax or email, make sure to confirm the contact information so the request doesn’t go to the wrong person. 
  • Call to verify that the request has been received. If you know there’s an issue immediately after submitting a request, you can start fixing it right away. Healthcare staff will appreciate any effort that reduces the chance of miscommunication. They would rather take a call now asking if the request has been received than a month from now asking where the records are.

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Checking for Status Updates

It is common practice to reach out periodically after a request is submitted to check for status updates. A single request may involve several such calls. Checking in regularly can help speed the process along because it keeps your request at the forefront of their minds. When you reach out, try the following to make sure it’s a positive experience:

  • Keep calls as brief as possible. It’s not unlikely that another person will be on hold at some point in your conversation. The longer they’re kept waiting, the more likely they’ll be angry at the staff. Save them the stress by preparing the requested information and any questions ahead of time.
  • Stay calm in frustrating situations; there’s no reason to yell or insult the person who is trying to help you. Listen to their explanations and calmly ask any follow-up questions you may have. If you are kind and mindful of their feelings, most healthcare staff will feel more driven to fix the problem asap.
  • Respond quickly if the healthcare provider reaches out to you, especially if they do not leave a message with specific details. They may be trying to inform you of delays due to the records being archived or aged out of the system. Due to the often urgent nature of medical records requests, this could be important information to convey to any other treating physician. 

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Simplify Future Requests

ChartRequest’s medical records exchange solution helps streamline communication between everyone involved with a request. Our streamlined workflow breaks the entire process down into simple steps, and our double quality assurance standards ensure that only the correct records are shared.

We built the ChartRequest platform for transparency, so requestors can check for status updates anytime within seconds of signing into the app. Each request includes a built-in provider chat for any additional questions or comments too, which means no more waiting through prerecorded directories each time you need to reach out to the doctor.

The kindest thing you can do when requesting medical records simplifies the process for the healthcare staff processing the request, and ChartRequest offers the simplest ROI solution for requestors and providers alike. Do them a favor, and create your account today.

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Click here to read our complete guide to electronic health records for healthcare providers.

For our complete guide to electronic health records for legal professionals, click here.

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