How online rating websites could increase patient access to digital records

Patients would have better access to their electronic health records if online rating programs included questions about such access in evaluations of physicians and hospitals, according to Niam Yaraghi, a fellow at the Brooking Institution's Center for Technology Innovation.

In a blog post, Yaraghi points out that despite the fact that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) affords consumers the right to their records, and that having them in electronic form makes it easier and cheaper for providers to copy them, many providers take advantage of consumers' unfamiliarity with their rights and either refuse to provide them or charge "exorbitant" fees for the privilege.

However, if providers knew that how they handled such access would be made public, they may no longer create barriers to patient access, he says.

"If Yelp and other online review platforms consider access to electronic health records as a criterion in their evaluation system, medical providers will be motivated enough to increase their star ratings by allowing patients to easily access their records," he writes.

He also recommended that Medicare include this evaluation feature in its Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey.

In the meantime, the recent lawsuit filed against two District of Columbia hospitals for overcharging patients for copies of electronic records--as well as other similar lawsuits that will likely be filed--will also benefit consumers because the publicity will raise awareness of their rights to their records, which in turn will motivate providers to improve access in order to avoid bad publicity and legal defense costs, according to Yaraghi.

The ability of patients to access their electronic records and the cost of obtaining them is a primary concern. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT recently reported that more than one fourth of consumers are still unaware or didn't believe that they had a right to access their electronic records. The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights is expected to issue guidance on patient access to records by the end of 2015.

To learn more:
- read the blog post