With support from health IT groups, a new ‘wizard’ looks to streamline patient medical records requests

With the help of 13 other groups, X4 Health unveiled a new tool to simplify medical record requests. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

Anyone who has ever tried to get their medical records knows: It’s not easy.

Christine Bechtel, the co-founder and president of X4 Health knows about the complexities first hand. Three years ago, she tried to get her medical records from her doctor in an electronic format. She was stymied when the office’s request form didn’t provide the option, despite a 2013 change to HIPAA that requires providers to give medical records in an electronic format to those that request it.

“I literally printed off a copy of the federal register [HIPAA rule] to prove my right to records in electronic format and dropped it on their desk,” Bechtel told FierceHealthcare. “It made quite a thud.”

Now, X4 Health and 13 other healthcare and technology groups are hoping to fix what has become a pervasive issue in healthcare with a so-called “wizard,” a medical records request prototype that streamlines the process for both patients and medical records professionals.

The group—which includes the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), Carin Alliance, Ciox and the Marshfield Clinic—unveiled the “Health Records Request Wizard” at the Biden Cancer Summit on Friday, alongside announcements from massive companies like Airbnb and WeWork. The online tool is designed to ease the burden of both initiating and fulfilling medical records requests.

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It’s a problem that has only intensified in the digital age. A 2016 report to Congress by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) indicated that the process for requesting medical records is often onerous and providers frequently blame HIPAA for the inability to share electronic information.

A 2017 report (PDF) that analyzed release forms from 50 large health systems in 32 states called the process “inefficient,” adding that fulfillment is “surprisingly antiquated.” And those shortcomings aren't just limited to small practices, according to Bechtel. 

“The fact of the matter is, most healthcare entities don’t realize all of the options patients have available to them under HIPAA,” she said.

Hospitals can co-opt the online request form as their own and use the consumer feedback collected as part of the project to create new, better iterations. Bechtel said hospitals, health systems and physician offices can begin integrating the free tool tomorrow since it runs on technology most providers already have.

One of the project’s advisors Aneesh Chopra, president of CareJourney and the former U.S. chief technology officer, called on all healthcare providers to use the tool, adding that it “offers an ‘easy button’ for implementation.”

There’s reason to believe providers may get on board. Bechtel said support from AHIMA, which represents medical record request professionals across the country, is a key partner. Plus Ciox, a company that processes the majority of medical records requests across the country, has committed to incorporating the group’s findings into their own processes.

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“Health systems can try an overcomplicate this or they can use this tool right now to create exquisitely clear requests,” Bechtel said, adding that hospital medical records departments “desperately want to be in the modern age.”

The tool also has the blessing of former vice president Joe Biden, who now leads the Biden Cancer Initiative and has talked about his frustration getting his son Bo’s medical records as he was battling cancer.

“[He’s] very, very much on board,” Bechtel said, shortly after meeting with Biden.