Patients can't sue hospital for EHR copying costs

Patients don't have standing to challenge the costs of obtaining copies of their electronic health records if they don't actually shell out the money for such copies, according to a new federal court opinion.

Several patients sued the University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital and Highland Hospital, as well as their third party medical records vendor, Verisma Systems, claiming that they were overcharged for copies of their electronic medical records in violation of New York law, The patients claimed that they were charged $0.75 per page whether they were provided with paper copies or access to copies via an online portal, and that the actual costs of the copies were not disclosed. They claimed the actual costs of the copies were significantly less, and the higher costs were a "kickback scheme" between Verisma and the hospitals.

The defendants claimed, among other things, that the patients didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit since they hadn't actually suffered any injury. The patients also did not pay for the medical records; their attorneys did; the patients did not claim that they had an obligation to reimburse the attorneys for the copying costs.

The patients said that they did not have to "plead the obvious" in that ultimately they'd be responsible for their attorneys' costs.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, in an opinion issued May 18, said no dice. The complaint didn't indicate that the patients suffered any "injury in fact." However, in dismissing the complaint, the court allowed the patients to try again and "add facts relating to the terms of engagement between Plaintiff and their attorneys."

EHRs increasingly are finding their way into legal proceedings, and sometimes are the focal point of the litigation. Issues have been raised whether the records are sufficiently accurate to be relied on in court. As EHRs become more common in court, the costs of those copies may be challenged more frequently.

To learn more:
- read the court decision (.pdf)