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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good People to Know: Records Custodians

Whether you are trying to acquire medical records, city records, or any other type of recorded material, a relationship with the person who protects their distribution can make all the difference in the world.

I have learned that since moving to Memphis, a place where I know very few people. I took it for granted back in Small Town, Alabama, that all records custodians were sugary sweet and eager to help fill my requests. That was Small Town, Alabama; this is Large Metropolitan Area, Tennessee. While I am sure the hospitals back home see their fair share of records requests, Memphis hospitals probably see three times as many.

In my first two months, I have had few successes at quickly retrieving records. With exceptions, most records requests and subpoenas feel like pulling teeth. I may end up with the wrong address or learn that billing records have to be subpoenaed from an entirely different place. I have been told several times that they never received my request, even after re-faxing it. I can't tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, "We're running behind here, and we have two weeks worth of unopened mail to go through."

Thus, it becomes very important to form a relationship with the records custodian. He or she is not going to work any faster or put forth any extra effort for the faceless voice over the phone. However, a few seconds of warm conversation and a couple of thankyousomuches seem to melt even the coldest personalities.

I have taken to writing down names of people to ask for when I inevitably call these places again. It helps to speak to a familiar person, especially when you can remind her of how grateful you were for her help in the past.

When I first moved here, I made a request for records to a hospital system in a completely different region. The first request was sent to the correct (but incomplete) address. I had to send another one. The first custodian I spoke with gave me the complete address and encouraged me to save my firm a little money by requesting the records on CD. I failed to take down his name. The CD came in, but the records were password protected. This seems like a smart idea. It keeps out those who should not be viewing the records. I called the hospital for the password then proceeded to upload the records to my firm's system. I noticed, however, that they remained password protected.

I attempted to change the security on the pdf documents in order to release the password, but this required a new password. Of course when I contacted the hospital, they were unwilling to give me the administrative pass code. I was unable to OCR, bates stamp, or otherwise alter the documents in any way. And I could not remember the name of the guy who had been so helpful when I first called. He may not have been able to give me the password, but perhaps he would have empathized with me when I explained to him that the double password protection would require me to print the 1,000 pages of records anyway and then re-scan them back into the system before anyone else in my firm could access them or process them. The person I ended up speaking with simply did not care that we were in fact wasting paper and defeating the purpose of the paperless system.

So get to know your local records custodians. They hold the keys to the information you need.

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