What Happens When You Send Medical Records

How a doctor sends, receives, and sees your medical information

Ever wondered what actually happens when you ask your old doctor to send your medical records to your new doctor? It should just work, right?

Too bad, it doesn't.

There are a few ways that doctor's offices share information with each other.


It may be old school, but faxing is still one of the most common ways that doctors share information between organizations.

Why? In theory this method of sharing information is HIPAA compliant. Because it is such a common method, even new practices need to be able to receive faxes. The widespread availability of faxing is part of why it is still used so often.

Same Organization

If the doctors you are seeing both practice out of the same healthcare organization, then they may share information easily because they have access to the same database. A good example of this is Partners HealthCare, where doctors in both Mass General and Brigham & Women's Hospitals automatically share information.

How to know if providers in the same organization share information.

Sometimes within the same organization, different locations or specialties use different software. If that's the case, even within the same organization, offices may need to use one of the other methods (e.g. faxing) to share treatment information.

Same Type of Software

Organizations may use the same type of software. This doesn't mean that they can automatically see each other's patient data, but it does mean that there is an electronic way for them to share data.

Each organization has a separate database, which is slightly different from another organization's database - even if they're on the same version of the same piece of software. This means that when the data comes across through this method, it may be a little messy or look weird to the physician.

This method of data sharing also does not typically cover 100% of your medical information. What isn't included depends on how each organization's database is set up.


Ah, snail mail. This is a common way for organizations to send old medical records, and to send images (e.g. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs). You may also receive imaging files through the mail from your provider.


APIs are a very new way of sharing information about patients. They cover limited amounts of data - and whether or not it's possible for data to be shared this way depends on both organizations being set up to send and receive information.

How your new doctor sees your information

Generally speaking, a physician sees shared data in a different way than they see data from their own organization. This is often done on purpose, because physicians trust information from their immediate colleagues more than information from a doctor they don't know. More often than not, the information that is shared is attached as a PDF to your chart. Those PDFs are not searchable, may not be labeled or organized, and altogether very difficult for a physician to process.

How does Vessel help?

We can make it easier for you to keep track of all of your medical information.

We don't change the integration methods between healthcare organizations, but we do show you all your data - in a view that even doctors don't have access to!

You can use Vessel to make sure you're filling out health history forms properly, to answer questions your doctor may ask, and to show your provider trends over time.