Hospitals sued for overcharging patients for EHR copies

Two hospitals in the District of Columbia have been sued for charging "illegal" and "excessive" fees to patients for providing them with copies of their electronic health records, according to an article in the Washington Business Journal.

In the lawsuit, filed in August, two patients of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and a patient of George Washington University Hospital requested copies of their digital records. Both hospitals use EHRs. 

A third party contractor hired by both hospitals, HealthPort, refused to provide electronic copies of the records and assessed high per page copy fees, plus a "basic" fee of $22.88 and shipping and handling fees of $16.38. One plaintiff was charged $1,558 for copies of his treatment in January. Another initially received a bill for $32.32 for seven pages at 76 cents per page, as well as the basic fee and shipping and handling, but several months later received a second bill for $430.20 for more than 500 pages.

D.C. law requires that patient records be provided within 30 days and that only a "reasonable" fee be charged for the copies. HIPAA not only imposes limitations on what providers can charge for copies, but also requires that they be provided in electronic format if available.

The plaintiffs claim that the hospitals' use of EHRs has "drastically reduced" the costs to provide records and that the "illegal" rates are "far in excess" of what's allowed, in violation of the DC Consumer Protection and Procedures Act. They have also requested class action status for the lawsuit on behalf of all similarly situated patients.  

The ability of patients to access their digital records has become a front burner issue in recent weeks. The HHS Office for Civil Rights intends to issue guidance on the right to access and the allowable costs for copies within the next few months. Deven McGraw, deputy director of OCR's health information privacy division, stated at a recent conference that she questioned whether a "per page" metric for determining the cost of medical record copies even applies to EHRs, which don't paginate.

To learn more:
- read the article