Can You Access Your Health Care Records?
In most situations, federal law allows patients to access their own health care records. However, there remain compliance problems in key areas. Hospitals can and do deny patients access to their own records in certain situations. This appears to be in direct conflict with federal and state laws that govern health record disclosure.
A recent study showed broad disparity in regulatory compliance of health care record disclosure. The study conducted a survey of 89 of the top hospitals in the U.S. spanning 29 states. The results of the study showed that health care providers routinely limited patient access to their own records even when required by federal law to do so. In many cases, even when hospitals did disclose medical records to patients, they charged patients sometimes exorbitant costs above the recommended federal standard of $6.50. In fact, 48 of the surveyed 89 hospitals charged more than the federally recommended standard for medical records. In some cases, these hospitals violated state standards for processing times.
Some Patients Face Major Hurdles to Access Their Medical Records
In some cases, patients find themselves locked in a battle with health care providers regarding requests for their own medical records. These include unclear steps to acquire the records and long waiting periods.
The study’s method was to conduct simulated patient requests from multiple hospitals across the U.S. The results of the study appear to show broadscale confusion concerning both federal and state laws that promote patient access to their medical records. In some cases, information given to patients over the telephone conflicted with information that could be found on forms.
Among the study’s conclusions was that there was an apparent lack of transparency in the medical record request process. Hospitals are required to provide patients with authorization forms to release their medical records. Only 53% of these hospitals explicitly stated that they were legally required to release all information related to a patient’s medical records. In some cases, there were discrepancies between what kinds of information a patient could access and what they couldn’t. Forms might only give them an abbreviated list of possibilities while they would be required to talk to someone over the phone in order to request certain types of records.
Another major problem that patients faced was processing fees. In some cases, webpages or forms did not list fee schedules in relation to the dissemination of patient records. This left patients unaware that there would have been any costs related to the acquisition of their medical records. Additionally, charging patients for electronic records on a per-page basis is prohibited by federal statute and yet some health care providers did just that.
It is widely believed that allowing patients access to their health records is beneficial to both the patient and their physician, yet the process of acquiring these records varies from difficult to impossible.
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