Family History: Dental and Medical Records
Locating your medical and dental records is often as simple as contacting your health care provider and asking for copies. Legally, patients are entitled to know any information contained in their own health records, and health care providers must produce copies of these records if requested. Health records may be on paper or stored in an electronic format, and doctors may request a nominal fee for copies and transfers of information. These fees may be higher if the history includes a large number of diagnostic images, such as X-rays, and lab or testing results. Most health care providers are required to keep a copy of patient records for at least seven years after the patient’s last visit, but this time frame can vary across localities. However, if you need to access the medical or dental records of a relative, there are several legal concerns to be aware of. Due to the guidelines set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, you may only access the health records of a living relative with their express permission. If the relative is deceased, the legal next of kin has access to the decedent’s medical records and must give consent for any other relative to view this information. In many localities, privacy laws no longer apply to the medical records of patients who have been deceased more than 50 years.
- Dental Records Information Packet (PDF)
- Dental FAQs
- How to Find Your Dental Records
- Acquiring Dental Records of the Deceased
- How to Find Your Medical Records
- Acquiring Medical Records of the Deceased
- Resources for Obtaining Family Members’ Medical Records
- Deceased Patient Records FAQs
- The Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative
- Family History Information Privacy Guide (PDF)
Once a family health history has been established, it is important for family members to share health information with one another that may affect their relatives. Many diseases have a genetic risk component; if a close relative has a history of the disease, the patient may be at increased risk for developing the same affliction. Some examples of this type of disease include diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, cystic fibrosis, and several types of cancer. While genetic risk factors can increase a person’s chance of contracting a disease, proactive steps can usually be taken to lower one’s risk. Knowing relevant genetic risk factors ahead of time can help doctors give better medical advice to patients at a younger age, decreasing their chances of developing the disease. While managing genetic risk and providing better overall care is the primary purpose of maintaining accurate health records for your family, there are several other purposes. Medical professionals can use patient records and family histories for research purposes, studying various diseases or the effects of certain drugs over a period of time. Medical records also come into play in certain legal scenarios, particularly litigation surrounding injuries and accidents, negligence suits, and product liability suits. An esoteric but important use of dental records is in postmortem identification. Coroners make use of dental records to help identify human remains and often use this information to locate missing persons, usually after they are deceased. If a loved one goes missing, providing a medical and dental history can aid the authorities in locating them quickly.
- The FBI’s National Dental Image Repository
- Dental Records and Postmortem Identification
- The Importance of Your Family Medical History
- Genetics and Disease Prevention
- Acting on Your Family Medical History
- The Importance of Managing Dental Records
- Multiple Purposes of Medical Records
- Understanding Genetic Risks
- Genetic Risk Factors and Your Family History
In addition to medical information, many resources online can help people to uncover a broader family history. Those interested in learning more about their family’s genealogy can seek out free and paid genealogy websites, military records, and United States government sites. Most information from commercial genealogy services requires a fee after a designated free trial period; however, most federal government information can be requested for free or a very small fee. A good place to start is the National Archives, which has a variety of resources for aspiring genealogists. Census data, military draft records, immigration and naturalization documents, and birth or death certificates are just a few examples of government data available to researchers.