Study: Time to re-evaluate policies on patient access to PHI

Even as healthcare providers embrace electronic health records, it's time they re-evaluated their policies for providing patients with access to their medical records, according to research published at Perspectives on Health Information Management.

The research is based on survey responses of 313 members of the American Health Information Management Association.

Despite the adoption of EHRs and portals through which patients can view their records, many organizations still charge patients for that access. In fact, 52.6 percent of respondents said they charge patients for electronic copies of their medical records--such as via a flash drive or DVD--and 64.7 percent charge patients for paper copies. Charges for paper copies generally were by page, with 65 percent reporting that they charge less than $1 per page.

Nearly one in four respondents (23.6 percent) said they follow the rates set in state statutes for copies, which indicates the fees are not based on the cost to the facility. Those statutes generally set the maximum allowable rate. However, HIPAA and HITECH require that patients may only be charged a "reasonable cost-based fee" for copies of their medical records.

At the same time, 72.8 percent of respondents said they contract with a vendor to handle this release of information and 73.5 percent use software to support this function, according to the research. Providers who offer patients access through a portal, said adoption levels are low--at 5 percent of patients or fewer.

The authors suggest charging the maximum rate for attorneys, insurance companies and others who request the information for business purposes in an effort to keep costs low for patients.

Patient advocate Regina Holliday has cited the difficulty in obtaining her husband's records during 11 consecutive weeks of hospitalization before his death from kidney cancer in 2009. She says they could have spotted lapses in treatment that could have made a huge difference.

Putting patients in control of their health information was the theme of a 21st Century Cures panel discussion that focused on the steps Congress can take to bridge the gap between advances in healthcare technology and the regulatory policies that govern them.

To learn more:
- check out the research