Medical Records: How Private Are They?

Your medical records contain all the details related to the treatment you receive from any healthcare professional. This includes your medical history, family medical history, and lifestyle information, like whether you’re a smoker or drug user. They also contain test results, your prescription medication history, and reports on any procedures you’ve undergone.

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Are your medical records completely private?

So, needless to say, the information in these records is very intimate. And luckily, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) was enacted to protect your privacy when it comes to records maintained by health care providers, health plans, and health clearinghouses that conduct certain transactions electronically.

However, your personal health-related information also exists outside of those HIPPA-protected records in places like:

  • Your credit card and checking transactions, which may show healthcare institutions you’ve paid for visits
  • Insurance applications and medical claims
  • Your credit history (lenders can refuse you credit based on unpaid medical bills, though they’re not privy to the details of your health history, as dictated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA))
  • Your employer – through their obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), if you request leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if you participate in a Employee Health Program (EHP), or if your employer is self-insured for your medical benefits

The level to which your health information is protected beyond HIPPA varies by state.

To learn more about HIPPA, visit the HIPPA Basics page on