Recently a personal injury client came in asking about a potential medical malpractice lawsuit against a Georgia hospital. As a medical malpractice lawyer in Georgia, I did not know whether she had a case or not, and I told her I needed to see the medical records in order to tell. She tried to get the records from the hospital, but the hospital informed her that it would cost $2000 to get the records - just to find out whether she even had a lawsuit!
I had a car wreck client who had had some testing done at a lab. The lab charged $25 for the records. I assumed that for that price I would get a sheaf of papers. But when I opened the envelope from the lab, it only had two pages of medical records. And to add insult to injury, the laboratory had copied the letters I had sent asking for the records and charged me $.75 per page to give me copies of my own letters -- as if my letters simply requesting a copy of the client's medical records were part of the client's records themselves!
In car accident or personal injury cases, the high cost of the records can seriously eat into the amount the client can collect from the insurance company. In medical malpractice cases, lawyers have trouble determining whether a case is even valid because the documents that would answer the question are so extraordinarily expensive.
In Georgia, however, the legislature has given hospital and doctors a legal right to charge that much:
"The party requesting the patient's records shall be responsible to the provider for the costs of copying and mailing the patient's record. A charge of up to $20.00 may be collected for search, retrieval, and other direct administrative costs related to compliance with the request under this chapter. A fee for certifying the medical records may also be charged not to exceed $7.50 for each record certified. The actual cost of postage incurred in mailing the requested records may also be charged. In addition, copying costs for a record which is in paper form shall not exceed $.75 per page for the first 20 pages of the patient's records which are copied; $.65 per page for pages 21 through 100; and $.50 for each page copied in excess of 100 pages. All of the fees allowed by this Code section may be adjusted annually in accordance with the medical component of the consumer price index."
So, under Georgia law, the doctor can charge $20, right off the bat, even if he only has one page of records. Then the doctor or hospital can charge $.75 for every page for the next 20. And even though everyone knows you could go to Kinko's and get a copy for $.10, the charge never drops below $.50 a page.
That's crazy. If anything, making copies today is cheaper than it ever has been because most hospitals have their records on computer, ready to print out. The law in this area is not only unfair, but unrealistic and unnecessary. The Georgia legislature needs to rethink the law on charging for medical records.