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How to transfer your medical records

If you’re seeking a second opinion, you may need to request access to medical images or special records.

From Harvard Health Publishing

Whether you’re seeking a second opinion or booking an appointment with a specialist, you’ll need to know how to go about transferring your medical records so your new doctor has all of your information.

The good news for you: Because of the widespread use of electronic medical records, transferring information to another doctor is usually fairly easy. However, there are a few steps you’ll need to follow — and you may still need to pick up a few hard copies for certain imaging.

Why seek a second opinion?

Your cancer diagnosis may seem straightforward, but it’s often worth it to seek out a second opinion. Even if your consulting doctor comes to the exact same conclusion as your diagnosing physician, the process of talking through your diagnosis and your intended treatment plan may prove helpful. If nothing else, hearing your diagnosis from a different doctor may be clarifying in the sense that the news isn’t so much of a shock this time around.

How to transfer your records

It’s not rude to seek out a second opinion, and any good doctor should be happy to recommend a colleague who specializes in your type of cancer. Once you’ve identified a specialist, call his or her office to see what you should bring or have sent to the office before you arrive. As mentioned, electronic medical records make this process much easier than it used to be, but you’ll still need to allow enough time for the records to be sent. Be prepared with the name, number, and fax number of your primary doctor’s office, as the consulting doctor’s office will likely contact them directly.

However, this isn’t always the case. You may also need to call your primary doctor’s office as well, to confirm that you’ll be seeking a second opinion or a specialist’s opinion elsewhere. Be sure that they’ve received a request from the secondary doctor’s office to transfer your records, and that the process is in motion. It is important to make sure that you have given the consent needed for your medical provider to transfer your records.

Ask about imaging

While we’ve come a long way from needing to carry hard copies of our medical files around, your secondary doctor may need a physical copy of any imaging you had done previously. If so, you may need to request a copy of your MRI, ultrasound, or other imaging from the office of medical records, and have it sent either to you or to the secondary doctor. Again, leave enough time before your next appointment to get this done.

Insurance issues

In an earlier era, health insurance companies insisted on a second opinion when a doctor recommended an expensive surgery or procedure. While that’s no longer common, it’s rare for companies to refuse coverage for a second-opinion consultation. Still, check with your health plan to see whether the visit and any additional costs will be covered. Certain plans may steer you to preferred providers within your network, or you may need to pay a higher out-of-network copay.

First doctor, more questions?

What if the time and energy required to get a second opinion feels overwhelming? Here’s another option: schedule another appointment with your primary doctor to go over any lingering questions or concerns you have, and ask a family member or friend to come along. Often, people will bring their spouse and/or one of their adult children, both for emotional support and so the family’s questions can also be addressed.