The new rule has implications for personalized medicine, because having access to records helps tailor treatments for everything from cancer to chronic conditions.
If information is power, why do patients have such a hard time getting their own medical records?
It’s a question the Obama administration asked too often when fielding complaints at the HHS Office of Civil Rights. So this month, officials have updated rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to make it clear that hospitals and other providers can’t hold back records from patients and can’t ask why patients want them.
Patients are denied records for a variety of reasons, including the fear that the practice or institution is losing the business to a rival provider. But that’s not a reason for refusing to provide records in a timely manner, according to HHS. The new rules spell out the following:
· Records must be provided within 30 days. If the records are archived off site, 1 extension of 30 days is permitted.
· Records that are old are not excluded—they must be provided.
· The only exclusions are for psychotherapy notes and records that are gathered as part of a civil or criminal investigation or administrative proceeding.
· Hospitals should take reasonable steps to confirm the identity of the requestor is the patient, or that person’s legal representative.
· Records should be in the form the patient desires—print or electronic. Patients cannot be required to pick them up in person.
· Reasonable copy fees for paper records are permitted, but providers cannot charge for searching for records.
· Hospitals cannot refuse to supply records because a patient has not paid a bill.
While HHS is interested in upholding basic patient rights, it’s also interested in promoting better patient engagement, and better information is essential to that cause. The introduction to the new rules explains that patients who fully understand their medical history—and can document it—will help providers avoid unnecessary tests or errors. Having medical records readily available will also be important as personalized medicine becomes more common in treating everything from cancer to chronic conditions.
“With the increasing use of and continued advances in health information technology, individuals have ever expanding and innovative opportunities to access their health information electronically, more quickly and easily, in real time and on demand,” the rules state.
“Putting individuals ‘in the driver’s seat’ with respect to their health also is a key component of health reform and the movement to a more patient-centered healthcare system.”