7 ways to improve patient access to medical records

Patients and caregivers often have a hard time getting access to medical records when they switch doctors or are in the midst of a health crisis, according to a new government report.

Patients are often unaware of the appropriate channels for obtaining their records, and are often in a hurry when they do need them, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT found (PDF).

ONC distilled its conversations with patients into three fictional case studies that typify their experience. For example, it included the story of a mother trying to gather records from five specialists for her daughter’s pediatrician, each of which required different steps to get the information.

ONC interviewed 17 patients and four record administrators about the difficulties obtaining records. The agency also analyzed medical release information from 50 health systems in 32 states.

“In the current records request process, patients and health systems are often at odds, as each struggles through an inefficient system to accomplish ... tasks with limited resources,” the report states. “But ultimately, these two user groups have the same goals—and shared needs.”

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Creating patient-centered records is good for both patients and providers, according to ONC. Here are 7 ways providers can make that happen:

  1. Allow patients to easily request and gain access to their records through patient portals.
  2. Create an electronic records request system outside of online portals.
  3. Offer a process online that is outlined in clear, user-friendly language.
  4. Use electronic verification processes to more quickly confirm the a record requester’s identity.
  5. Offer online tracking for requests in patient portals; for instance, a bar that shows when a request is received, and then updates throughout the process.
  6. Make it clear to patients that records can be requested in a number of forms, both physical and digital.
  7. Push for greater use of patient portals by also offering other online features, like appointment scheduling, prescription refills and secure physician messaging.