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How to Obtain Your Medical Records for Social Security Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
January 22, 2024  ·  4 min read
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Your medical records are an important part of your disability application. When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical records to determine your eligibility.

Essentially, your records “prove” your disability — which is why it’s so important to have up-to-date records from licensed physicians that document the severity of your medical condition. 

In this article, you’ll learn how to authorize the SSA to access your medical records, plus tips to speed up the process and avoid delaying your disability application.

4 reasons medical records are important for disability applicants

Your medical records are a crucial part of your disability application for the following reasons:

  1. Medical records provide an official record of your diagnosis

  2. Medical records demonstrate the severity of your condition or impairment

  3. Medical records explain how your disability affects your functioning

  4. Medical records support a listing impairment in the SSA’s Blue Book (which lists conditions that qualify for disability benefits) with objective evidence

Insufficient medical evidence is a significant reason the Social Security Administration denies disability applicants. You can increase your chances of winning disability benefits by submitting comprehensive medical records that describe your medical condition and how it impacts your daily functioning.

Tip: When you go to the doctor, mention your limitations and ask your doctor to note them in your medical records. This can really help your disability case.

What medical records should I include with my disability application?

Your medical records lay the foundation for a strong disability application. It can be helpful to have the following health records to complete the Disability Report (Form SSA-3368):

  • Physician’s notes from licensed health care professionals

  • Treatment history, including medications you’ve taken

  • Lab results or test results

  • Emergency room visit summaries

  • Mental health records, including treatment history

  • Notes from surgeries or diagnostic procedures 

  • Imaging (such as CT scans, X-rays, and MRIs)

  • Any additional results from medical testing 

Do I need to submit my own medical records?

No, submitting your own medical records as part of your initial application is not advisable. When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, you will complete Form SSA-827, which authorizes the SSA to contact the medical providers and health institutions you listed on your application on your behalf. 

There are two big reasons for this: The SSA covers the costs of obtaining medical records up to a certain amount, but you will be responsible for any fees if you get your own records. Also, the SSA must request your records as part of its evaluation process, so sending your own records would be like doing it twice.

The exception to the rule is if your condition is on the SSA’s compassionate allowance list. You can upload your diagnosis with your initial application to expedite the process.

If the SSA has difficulty reaching your doctors or requires additional records beyond what you’ve provided in your application, the SSA might request more information. In such cases, you or your disability lawyer may need to gather additional medical evidence. You might also ask your physician to submit a doctor’s note called a medical source statement to help build your case.

How to obtain your medical records step-by-step

Under the federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you have the right to view and obtain your records from any doctor you have seen. If the SSA requests additional records, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of your doctors. List all the doctors you’ve seen to diagnose and treat your disability. Include all relevant healthcare providers, such as primary care physicians, specialists, physical therapists, and licensed mental health providers.

  2. Contact the doctors on your list. Call or email each provider to ask for your records. Inquire about their process for releasing medical records.

  3. Submit the necessary paperwork. Complete and submit any paperwork that your providers require. In some cases, you may need to mail a written request. They will then send you hard copies or electronic copies of your records from their office. 

The process of requesting and obtaining medical records can vary from state to state. Some states require special authorization forms to release records, and others have certain deadlines. Make sure you’re aware of any special requirements that apply to your state.

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7 tips for requesting your medical records

It is your right to access your medical records. Follow these additional tips to get your medical records as quickly as possible:

1. Be specific with your request.

To streamline the process, tell your providers the specific records you need, such as doctor’s notes and test results, and the timeframe for which you need them.

2. Ensure your provider complies with HIPAA regulations.

Under HIPAA, healthcare providers cannot delay you from getting your records. After a doctor receives a request for medical records, they must provide them within 30 days. Also, practitioners cannot charge you money for your records beyond a small reasonable fee for pages, copies, postage, and delivery. These fees differ from state to state.

3. Get legal assistance.

A disability lawyer can help you communicate directly with your healthcare providers and determine the most relevant records for the SSA. Disability lawyers understand the importance of building your case with medical evidence. If a healthcare provider denies your request for records, a lawyer can help you appeal.

4. Obtain copies of your records.

Ask your providers for physical or electronic copies of your records. This allows you to pull the most relevant information and send the forms to the SSA yourself so you can keep an eye on the tracking.

5. Review your records.

Before submitting your records, review them to ensure they’re accurate and up-to-date. Anything from within the last six months is helpful to the SSA. But don’t overlook older records — these are also important because they help show the severity of your condition.

6. Submit relevant records.

You don’t necessarily need to submit all of your medical records with your disability application. Only submit relevant records that support the condition you’ve listed on your application. For example, if you’re seeking disability benefits because of your Crohn’s disease, but you’ve also seen doctors for neck pain. In this case, you would only need to submit the medical records that relate to your Crohn’s. Your goal is to prove that you meet the qualifications for a “listing impairment” in the SSA’s Blue Book.

Can a disability lawyer help me obtain my medical records?

Yes, a lawyer can help you get your medical records. If you choose to work with a disability lawyer to support your case, they can:

  • Communicate directly with your healthcare providers

  • Confirm the SSA has received any documents you’ve submitted

  • Determine which records are most important for the SSA

FAQs about medical records

Can I request a copy of my records if I have not yet paid for the services?

Healthcare providers may have policies for the release of records if there are outstanding payments. Check with your healthcare provider about their policies.

Is there a fee for requesting health records?

Healthcare providers may charge you a flat fee or a per-page fee, plus delivery and postage costs. State laws will determine these costs. In New York, for example, physicians and institutions cannot charge more than 75 cents per page for medical records.

Can someone else request my medical records on my behalf?

Yes, a lawyer or other authorized representative can request your medical records for you. Claimants must complete Form SSA-827 to authorize the release of their medical records to authorized representatives and the Social Security Administration.

Get help with your disability application

Obtaining your medical records is only the start of how a disability lawyer can help with your case. Your lawyer can also help you fill out your application and, if necessary, appeal a denial. At that point, they can represent you in court to help you win the benefits you need.

At Atticus, we can match you up with a knowledgeable disability lawyer who can help strengthen your case to get benefits. To learn more, take our two-minute disability quiz, and someone from our team will follow up to learn more about your case.

Related resources:

Can a Lawyer Help My Social Security Disability Appeal?

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How to Write a Disability Appeal Letter: 8 Tips and Sample Letter

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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