New guidelines remove barriers between patients and their medical records

By Matt Kuhrt

The move to electronic health records makes it easier to share information among doctors and throughout an industry that sees value in the use of patient-generated health data, but privacy-preserving restrictions have made it increasingly difficult for patients to get their hands on their own information. The situation has gotten so frustrating for patients that the federal government is now stepping in to remove barriers keeping them from gaining access to their records, according to an article in The New York Times.

Some of the changes in the new guidelines issued by the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services include the following:

  • Hospitals can no longer force patients to give a reason to request their own health records
  • Providers cannot refuse access to records when they believe patients will find the information in them upsetting
  • If patients request their records be mailed to them, healthcare providers cannot force them to pick them up in person
  • Information requests cannot be denied for failure to pay medical bills
  • While hospitals can charge a fee for copying records, they cannot pass along any costs involved in search and retrieval of data

The administration also pointed out the benefits of patient access to healthcare information, including making it easier for them to make informed decisions about their care. Patients can also move to correct any errors that exist in the files.

According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, under most circumstances patients are supposed to receive access to their personal health records within 30 days of requesting them. Despite this, patients have become so frustrated with delays and fees in the process that patient access to medical records ranks among the top five issues investigated by the Office for Civil Rights, according to Deputy Director Deven McGraw.

To learn more:
- read The New York Times story