Understanding national record retrieval for medical-based litigation

img blog Understanding national record retrieval for medical based litigation

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Ask any legal professional to list the challenges of mass tort, class action, or personal injury cases, and at the top will be retrieving their clients’ medical records. Medical records are essential to building these cases, but most attorneys and law firms struggle with the process of retrieving them. Gathering and analyzing medical records, especially at the national level, is regularly described as painful and expensive, in terms of both time and money. But this is true only if you’re trying to do it on your own. There are firms that specialize in national record retrieval for litigation purposes, and they have mastered the process. They can save legal professionals a significant amount of time and deliver higher quality, because they’ve built connections with medical service providers and their record custodians. They’ve developed the skills to efficiently navigate these systems and they pass on this leverage to their customers. In this article, we’ll look at what makes medical record retrieval so problematic and why it’s best left to firms who specialize in it. You’ll find tips for how to work with these retrieval services and how to find one that best meets your needs. For legal professionals who decide to rely on a specialist record retrieval partner, the experience of gathering and analyzing their clients’ medical records becomes painless.

National record retrieval: The challenges facing attorneys and law firms

The leading issues with medical record retrieval are the time required and the quality of the results. National record retrieval is complicated by many factors, chief among them the myriad healthcare providers across the United States and their individual processes and idiosyncrasies. Many legal professionals who are preparing cases simply do not have the time or the inclination to familiarize themselves with these processes. The delays that result slow case closings and impact profitability. Quality is also an issue, both in terms of the documentation and customer service in general.

Let’s look at these issues in more detail and see how a retrieval specialist can help.

Opaque processes

Legal professionals complain that they don’t understand the record retrieval process or how to ensure timeliness and quality. There are thousands of medical service providers across the US, and many have their own unique systems for receiving and processing record requests from law firms. They may take record requests via mail, email, fax, or an online form or portal. It’s often unclear how to specify which records are required and which are not. It can even be unclear who the official record custodian is at a given institution, and they may use a third party to handle their record requests. This all requires law firm staff to learn each provider’s SOPs — a huge waste of time that often leads to delays and frustration.

On the other hand, a specialist retrieval service will have developed connections with healthcare providers nationwide and know how to get them to deliver on time. Even if it’s their first contact with a record provider, they will have the expertise to anticipate the quirks and find the right people there to facilitate the process and get hold of the records as quickly as possible.

Poor communication

A common complaint about medical record providers is that they are unpredictable and uncommunicative. Once records have been requested, communication from the provider often stops and the law firm has to keep following up with them to track down their records. For legal professionals working on a contingency fee basis, this can cause unacceptable delays.

A specialist retrieval service, on the other hand, will have staff trained to handle exactly this delicate process. They will know who to contact, and how, to ensure that record requests do not go astray or get ignored. The specialist retrieval service will also provide tracking for each requested document, so the legal professional can independently check the status of their record requests.

Lax quality control

Medical records are notorious for often being late, incomplete, and/or disorganized. These issues waste more of a legal professional’s time, as they require following up with the provider for missing files, or spending valuable time trying to decipher which of the received files are able to support their litigation needs.

A competent retrieval specialist’s fees will cover these document management services. They’ll confirm that the received files match the request, that the documents are complete, and that they’re fully legible — not blurred, cut off, or otherwise mangled by copiers or faxes.

Multiple authorizations

Medical record providers all require a signed HIPAA-compliant authorization form to release a patient’s personal information. However, this is often not the only authorization needed. Similar to the opaque processes discussed above, individual healthcare providers often apply their own privacy regulations and require their own authorizations. In the US, there are thousands of unique authorizations in use and it can be massively time-consuming and frustrating for legal professionals to navigate these systems.

A specialist retrieval service will streamline this process by either already knowing a provider’s unique authorization requirements or by being able to quickly understand what’s required to release the documentation.

The burden of analysis

Once medical records are received, the challenge is then to review them and extract the usable evidence. Unfortunately, most legal professionals don’t have the time or resources to read through hundreds of pages of medical documentation. They end up spending too much time summarizing and indexing all of the data they’ve received, which causes more delays and usually does not qualify as billable hours.

Here, again, a specialist retrieval service can be invaluable. The best ones offer services where qualified medical professionals who are experienced at providing accurate analyses review the records and produce summaries and chronologies. These allow legal professionals to quickly assess case values and add clarity and accuracy before and during depositions, mediation, or trial.

The bottom line

What all this means for the legal professional is medical records take too much time and therefore cost too much money. A specialist record retrieval firm will own the national record retrieval process. Simply request the records needed; from there, the retrieval specialist does all of the legwork until complete and accurate records are delivered. No more input required. A reliable retrieval specialist will guarantee this outcome and adhere to strict deadlines. They will also charge a flat per-record fee, which greatly simplifies case-valuation and budgeting tasks.

The question now is how to find the record retrieval specialist that best meets your needs.

Questions to ask when choosing a national record retrieval service

Here are some important considerations when evaluating a medical record partner.
Is the retrieval service experienced?

As discussed above, an idiosyncrasy of the US healthcare system is the fragmented service provider landscape, with thousands of individual medical institutions applying their own unique communication channels, processes, and fees. An experienced record retrieval firm will have developed a deep understanding of all the parties typically involved in the record retrieval relationship. They will have learned how these institutions operate and the issues they face.

Through these strategic professional relationships, they will be able to communicate effectively with all stakeholders involved, whether they have a preexisting relationship with them or not. This frees the legal professional from needing to acquire these skills and relationships, and allows them to simply be the customer in a streamlined record retrieval service.

Are they responsive?

Any legal professional considering partnering with a retrieval firm should consider themselves the customer in a typical service-provider relationship. The record retrieval specialist — the service provider — has to deliver records to their customers while ensuring timeliness and quality. Cost effectiveness is crucial, but so is transparency. Sometimes, legal professionals hire a record retrieval firm that leverages its relationships with healthcare institutions to become a kind of gatekeeper. In this situation, fees may become unreasonable, deadlines go unmet, and calls and emails are unanswered. This is no better for the legal professional than requesting records on their own directly from the healthcare provider.

A truly cost-effective retrieval service will always be transparent, both in their pricing ahead of time and in their availability and responsiveness after a request has been made. The customer should never have to chase down the service provider to deliver, or be met with unreasonable/unpredictable fees.

Is the record retrieval process secure? Are the records certified?
HIPAA compliance is essential, of course. But it should only be the baseline. In addition to following all HIPAA protocols and staying current with any updates, a specialist record retrieval service should add multiple security layers to protect client data. This should include defenses such as website and document encryption and multifactor authentication for any online access, and the use of only US-based servers. Also, following an established certification protocol provides a framework for ensuring the security of administrative procedures and performing relevant risk assessments. (At Record Retrieval Solutions, we use HIPAA Secure Now.)
Is the retrieval service provider ready for EMRs and EHRs?

The transition to electronic medical and health records is well underway, and any retrieval service must already have competence in digital record management and the HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health). To review, EMRs are digital versions of a typical paper chart that shows a history of diagnoses, treatments, prescriptions, immunizations, et cetera. EHRs include the EMR and a wide range of augmenting data from sources such as insurance, medical imaging, demographics, and wearable health monitoring devices.

More importantly, EHRs allow for greater sharing of an individual’s overall health history, which makes it faster and easier for medical professionals to align their care to the medical need. As these health information technology services become ubiquitous, medical record retrieval specialists have to stay up to date with the rapidly changing protocols.

Will the service save me time and money?
The purpose of all of this, of course, is to end up with more billable hours, more case closings, and more personal free time. This is the ultimate measure of a record retrieval service’s worth. The common thread running through all of this is time: without quick and easy access to medical records, legal professionals are forced to spend time that could go toward more valuable work. They are forced to keep training staff on record retrieval and paying them to chase down records and record custodians across the US. Record retrieval costs from a service provider can also be passed on as case expenses rather than absorbed internally. In a business model where time truly is money, the efficiency and accuracy delivered by a record retrieval service makes sense.

Secure, certified, and rapid medical record retrieval with RRS

At RRS, we’ve developed strategic relationships with record management leaders and governing institutions all across the US. And with decades of experience, our team of record retrieval specialists can get your records to you quickly and painlessly, removing this bottleneck from your caseload.
The secure online platform approach to record retrieval
  • Fast, two-step process: request and download your records via our encrypted online portal. Average delivery time is 16 days.
  • Medical record retrieval, radiology imaging retrieval, prescription network retrieval, and electronic medical record retrieval
  • Record summarization performed by qualified medical professionals
  • Organized records: chronological, Bates-labeled, categorized, sorted
  • Searchable records with OCR (optical character recognition) functionality
  • Direct delivery of records to third parties
If you need any additional information regarding medical record retrieval or the services offered by RRS, feel free to speak with someone directly here or send an enquiry here.


No, instead, there are thousands of individual healthcare-provider databases across the US that share varying degrees of interconnectedness. This is an acknowledged limitation of the US medical system that Big Tech has promised to someday remedy.

A medical record retrieval company gains access to an individual’s confidential medical records when they are required as evidence for insurance or litigation. They communicate with the record custodians and manage the quality of the documents in compliance with government rules of confidentiality. They then provide copies of these documents to the legal professionals handling the case.

Because healthcare-providers across the US use individual databases, many of them have unique processes for handling record requests. These can include sending the request by physical mail, email, or fax; through an online form or portal; or reaching out to a contracted third-party service provider.

Recently, more and more healthcare providers are relying on electronic recordkeeping and the PDF file format for medical records, thereby reducing the costs of shipping, handling, and duplicating paper copies. The safest and most efficient way to handle this format is through a secure online portal.

  • Obtain a signed HIPAA-compliant form for release of information from the client, then check whether the healthcare provider requires any additional authorizations.
  • Limit the per-record costs by requesting only the records that have evidentiary value, for example, the medication, imaging, or other treatments that relate directly to the case.
  • Confirm that the contact information on the client’s medical receipts will connect with the record custodians. (Sometimes, these are different offices/departments, and a record request sent to the billing party may not reach the record custodian.)
  • Proactively track each request, because record requests tend to get ignored or go missing. (Expect to wait up to 30 days to receive the records.)

Standards vary by state, but basically, the client or the client’s power of attorney representative must provide written permission for the release of their medical records by signing and dating a HIPAA-compliant authorization letter. You also need a list of the healthcare providers who treated your client and the dates and types of treatment. You also need to specify the types of records required, i.e., medical records, billing records, radiology images, physician billing, etc.

If the patient provides authorization or if the records are subpoenaed, HIPAA guidelines state they must be produced within 30 days. Record providers can extend this an additional 30 days in extraordinary circumstances. At RRS, our average turnaround time is 16 days for traditional records and 48 hours for electronic medical records and prescription records.

About The Author

img Chuck Dart
Chuck Dart started in the record retrieval business three decades ago. As the industry evolved from analog to digital, he recognized an opportunity to create a single, simple online solution that standardizes the record request and retrieval process across the entire healthcare industry.