New Medical Records Rules Favor Patients
Many patients, however, face barriers when seeking their medical records. Some doctors, for example, have an outlook that medical records are solely for physician-to-physician communication and that patients will not understand their records anyway.
The legislative rationale behind HIPAA is to inform patients about their own health care in order to aid them in being proactive about their health-related decisions, to correct errors, and to enable them to take action. In theory, this provides patients with more control over their own healthcare.
Patients complain that they are forced to make repeated requests for their records; they are assessed a significant fee for duplication; that the records must be picked-up in person from the doctor's office; and the request is denied until fees and insurance coverage issues are sorted out.
New federal regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services remove these barriers to accessing one's own health records. Under the guidelines, records cannot be denied because a medical bill is outstanding and the records must be emailed or mailed upon request. While the cost duplication can still be assessed, the physician cannot charge for searching and data retrieval; a common fees assessed by doctors.
Under HIPAA, a patient's request for medical records must be fulfilled within 30-days, with a 30-day extension option. This timing is important, especially when a patient is facing an acute medical condition or disease and needs their medical data to obtain a second opinion or to fully assess a treatment plan with a new specialist.
In the case of medical records, knowledge truly is power.