Know the Law: Rights to Access Medical Records

April 15, 2014

Published in the Union Leader

Q. I am seeing a therapist and am sharing very personal information in treatment. I know my therapist has a file but I don’t know what is in it. I also want to know what my rights are to access my records, and if someone else could access my records without my permission?

A.Your therapist’s file should contain any preliminary forms executed by you when therapy began. It should also contain any notes from treatment sessions, communications with you or third parties, billing statements, and insurance records. The physical records are the property of your therapist who has a legal duty to properly secure them. However the information contained in the records belongs to you, the client. You are entitled to a complete copy of your records within thirty days of a request, for a reasonable cost.

The protection of these records is governed by state and federal laws which are aimed at providing extensive privacies for the client. The communications in your therapist’s file are considered to be privileged, which means that the information contained in the file can only be shared with other individuals in very limited circumstances. The therapist-client privilege is comparable to attorney-client privilege. Generally, your records can only be shared in one or two instances: either you, the client, have executed a release to authorize the records to go to you or a third party, or a New Hampshire court has ordered the records be produced. If you are involved in legal proceedings such as a divorce or a personal injury lawsuit, it is possible that your opponent could seek your records. To the extent that your mental health is relevant to the legal proceedings, there is a possibility that at least certain records could be ordered released by a court after the court considers arguments from the parties in the case.

There are also some exceptions under state and federal law for allowing privileged information to be shared with third parties. For instance, if your therapist suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, the therapist must immediately contact the Division of Children, Youth and Families. If you communicate a serious threat of physical violence, the therapist is required to take certain steps. There are other exceptions as well.

To the extent that you have questions or concerns, you should speak to your therapist in order to obtain better assurances that your records are protected.

Andrea Daly can be reached at

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by The McLane Law Firm.
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