HHS delivers first fine under new information blocking initiative to Florida hospital

Doctor computer medical records
The Department of Health and Human Services fined a Florida hospital $85,000 for taking nine months to give the mother of an unborn child her medical records. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fined its first hospital under an initiative to combat information blocking, charging that a Florida hospital took too long to fulfill a patient's record request.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg must pay HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) $85,000 for failing to give a mother timely access to records about her unborn child, the agency said Monday. The fine is the first enforcement action taken under the Right of Access Initiative launched earlier this year to combat information blocking at healthcare facilities.

“Providing patients with their health information not only lowers costs and leads to better health outcomes, it’s the law,” said OCR Director Roger Severino in a statement.

HHS initiated the investigation into Bayfront—a 480-bed hospital located in St. Petersburg, Florida—after a complaint from the mother that the hospital provided health information more than nine months after she requested it.

“The HIPAA Rules generally require covered health care providers to provide medical records within 30 days of the request and providers can only charge a reasonable cost-based fee,” HHS said in a release Monday. “This right to patient records extends to parents who seek medical information about their minor children, and in this case, a mother who sought prenatal health records about her child.”

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In addition to the penalty, Bayfront agreed to put in a corrective action plan that includes monitoring from the OCR for one year, the agency said.

The enforcement action comes as HHS is taking regulatory moves to end information blocking.

In February, HHS released a proposed rule that outlined fines for the practice. The rule was required by the 21st Century Cures Act signed into law in 2016.

Stakeholders that violate the rule, which has yet to be finalized, could wind up paying as much as $1 million per information blocking infraction. HHS also wants to “name and shame” hospitals and physicians that block information by putting offenders on the Physician Compare website.