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Expert Analysis Highlights:
Getting your medical records can be a huge barrier to getting a second opinion. Trying to figure out our complex healthcare system on the fly can be a daunting task. Here are a few basic principles that will allow you to know your rights and get the records you need to get a second opinion quickly.
The most critical medical records in your cancer care are usually your CT scan (a.k.a. your ‘CAT scan’) and your pathology slides if a biopsy or surgery was performed.
The most important thing to remember is that your CT or MRI or PET scan is yours. You have a right to have a copy no matter what anyone tells you. The two ways a hospital typically provides you with a copy of your CT scan is 1) to provide a report or 2) to provide you with a CD-ROM copy of the actually pictures. In my experience, the report is not very helpful, and I never trust it in giving a second opinion. The actual CD-ROM is what a consulting doctor will insist on. In many instances, it’s the only thing needed to render an opinion about surgical respectability. In fact, as a routine practice, my office insists that a CD-ROM of a CT scan be mailed ahead of time to determine if an appointment is warranted. If it was never done, we simply get one done at our hospital prior to the appointment.
To get a copy of your CT, MRI, or PET scan on CD-ROM, find out where your hospitals “Radiology Customer Service” counter is located and what their hours of operation are. You can usually find this out by calling the hospital’s operator or your doctor’s office. There is sometimes a $10-15 fee for the CD-ROM although many hospitals offer the service for free. Also, when traveling to another hospital, its a good idea to bring a second copy with you to your consultation visit.
There are also times when an outside CT is not readable on the computers of another hospital. Until President Obama’s national health electronic record is standard practice, then we will have to continue to hope that hospital computers can open outside CD-ROM’s. Luckily, hospitals can open more than half of outside CT’s using their software.
Pathology slides can be obtained by calling the pathology department and asking them to have them ready for you to pick up. Alternatively, many hospitals have a system to send pathology slides directly from one hospital’s pathology dept to another. Of course this relies on them to not drop the ball so I recommend picking up the slides to ensure that the review is not delayed and things don’t fall through the cracks.