The Persistent Problems with Access to Records Under HIPAA

Daniel Solove
Founder of TeachPrivacy

HIPAA Access to Medical Records

A study released last month in Jama Open Network entitled Assessment of US Hospital Compliance With Regulations for Patients’ Requests for Medical Records demonstrates that compliance with HIPAA’s right to access medical records remains woeful.  In the second half of 2017, researchers contacted 83 US hospitals and conducted a simulated patient experience to ask for medical records. Among the hospitals, the researchers found that “there was discordance between information provided on authorization forms and that obtained from the simulated patient telephone calls in terms of requestable information, formats of release, and costs.”  On forms, “only 53% provided patients the option to acquire the entire medical record.”  The study concluded that “Requesting medical records remains a complicated and burdensome process for patients despite policy efforts and regulation to make medical records more readily available to patients. Our results revealed inconsistencies in information provided by medical records authorization forms and by medical records departments in select US hospitals, as well as potentially unaffordable costs and processing times that were not compliant with federal regulations.”

I addressed this topic in a blog post about 2 years ago. At that time, I said:

HIPAA doesn’t handle patient access to medical records very well. There are many misunderstandings about patient access under HIPAA that make it quite difficult for patients to obtain their medical information quickly and conveniently. Getting records is currently like a scavenger hunt. Patients have to call and call again, wait seemingly forever to get records, and receive them via ancient means like mail and fax. I often scratch my head at why fax is still used today — it’s one step more advanced than carrier pigeon.  Many covered entities do not send records by email, and getting electronic copies can be quite difficult. Many healthcare providers still maintain paper records in handwriting, and healthcare lags far behind most other industries in the extent to which it has moved to digital records.

Sadly, as this study confirms, little has changed.

Additional Blog Posts on this Topic

HIPAA’s Failure to Provide Enough Patient Control Over Medical Records
HIPAA’s Friends and Family Network: Access to Health Information

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics.  Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn.  His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz of the International Privacy + Security Forum (Apr. 3-5, 2019 in Washington, DC), an annual event that aims to bridge the silos between privacy and security.

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