As It Turns Out, You DO Have a Right to Your Own Medical RecordsIf you have ever tried to obtain your own medical records, then you know firsthand what a nightmare it can be. A new set of guidelines under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, is about to change all of that for consumers. The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration has said that “doctors and hospitals cannot require patients to state a reason for requesting their records, and cannot deny access out of a general concern that patients might be upset by the information.”

Under the new guidelines, patients will no longer be forced to physically pickup their records; instead, they can ask for mailed or electronic copies. Unpaid medical bills cannot be held against patients who want to access their records, and no patients can be charged a data search or retrieval fee, though healthcare providers can charge a fee for copying the pages.

This is a big step in helping healthcare consumers get what they need to make informed decisions about their care. If you know what your records say, you can decide whether or not to seek a second opinion, or to ask different questions about treatment options.

Why enforcement of the guidelines matters

Under HIPAA, you have the right to your own information. As we discussed

[date of other HIPAA blog], the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights hears literally tens of thousands of complaints each year, and does very little about them. In fact, in 2014 the HHS acted in only 6 cases out of around 18,000. Because the HHS has a track record of ignoring complaints, enforcing these new guidelines could prove difficult – and yet it is just as important.

Take the story of Christopher S. Moore, whose 4 year old son Oliver suffers from a rare genetic disorder. Mr. Moore has brought his son to eight different specialists throughout the country. The records detail almost a million dollars’ worth of treatment options, yet the Moore family cannot get their own updated copies of those records. As Mr. Moore told the Times, “Some doctors seem to believe that medical records are intended only for doctor-to-doctor communication, and that patients would not understand those records. We want the records so we have control over them — so we can provide them to any doctor who sees our son.”

Patients have always had a right to their own health records. Now, they can no longer be denied that right (or extorted through unnecessary or outrageous fees). We can only hope that the new guidelines are enforced more fully and effectively than the rest of HIPAA seems to be.