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Q & A: What Rules Govern the Confidentiality of MY Medical Records?

Posted Jan 08 2010 4:30pm

Hello and welcome to the 5th installment of my Q & A serieswhich is designed to cover some of the more elusive topics associated with the Social Security Disability claims process. In this postI answer a question regarding the confidentiality of a Social Security Disability claimant's medical records.


I recently received a denial following my initial disability application. I would like to review all of the evidenceboth medical and otherthat was considered in determining my claim. Is this a possibility? Furtheris this information available to the public for review and dissemination? In essencewhat rules govern confidentiality of SSA disability records?

My answer:

To begin withI am here to tell you that you can feel at ease about your SSA records. Any information that was provided by youas well as any additional information obtained by the SSA that is part of your claimis protected under the Privacy Actone of two separate and distinct laws that govern Federal agencies.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)Federal agencies are required to provide the public with access to their files and records. Howeverthis particular Act (FOIA) is not applicable to records maintained by the SSA. The second lawthe Privacy Actgoverns records such as medical evidence and other supporting documents retained by the SSA during your claim. The Privacy Act permits you only or your designated representative the opportunity to examine all records pertaining to you. This means that youConfidential SSA Records may request to review all the medical documentation or other evidence that was used to evaluate your claim for disability. While you and/or your representative are provided with this opportunitymembers of the public are not. Simply statedyour information is not available to the public for any type of review or dissemination.

It is important to notehoweverthat the SSA does reserve the right to determine whether the release of information could potentially have an adverse effect on you. If it is determined that the potential negative effects outweigh any probative valuethe information requested will only be released to your authorized representativethat individual you designated in your initial application or later in writing. This is rarehoweverand only applies in extreme circumstances.

One final note: Now that the SSA has converted most it's disability case files into electronic formatit is likely that you will be sent a CD containing your information/records once you request access to your records.  Here at my Social Security CDpracticewe receive CDs containing our clients' case files a few weeks or months prior to the hearing. We are now able to see everything in our clients' files just by referring to the CDand this is saving us from having to finger through large files to find what we need! Hopefully you will find this convenient as wellin the event that you end up requesting that SSA furnish you with your claim records.

The CD format for managing medical records is intended as a stopgap until SSA manages to establish a secure online system that attorneys and perhaps even claimants can use to access their claims files online.  Currently Social Security judges have access to records online but not attorneys.   In my view the CD format is probably less secure than the old paper format because claimantsattorneys and even Social Security personnel tend to get sloppy about leaving CD's lying around.  Almost every time I appear at a hearing officeI will see CD's containing someone else's personal medical recordsSocial Security numbers and Social Security claims file lying around.  If your file is on on CDmake sure to verify after your hearing your lawyer removes the CD from the hearing room computer.

Happy Fridaybe sure to tune in next week for Installment 6 of my Q & A Series.

Post from: Social Security Disability Blog

Q & A: What Rules Govern the Confidentiality of MY Medical Records?

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