New policies issued by the Obama administration this month mandate that doctors and hospitals cannot deny patients access to their own medical records or health information, and must provide that individual with a copy of these records within 30 days of the request.
“Based on recent studies and our own enforcement experience, far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information,” stated Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, to The New York Times. “This must change.”
Although the public previously had the right to obtain copies of their personal health records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), federal officials still received numerous complaints regarding the difficulty of gaining access to these medical records. As a result, the new HIPAA Privacy Rule was established, providing “individuals with a legal, enforceable right to see and receive copies upon request of the information in their medical and other health records maintained by their health care providers and health plans,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the new guidelines, patients have the right to be granted access to their own health information, including: medical records, billing and payment records, insurance information, clinical laboratory test results, medical images (such as X-rays), wellness and disease management program files, clinical case notes, and other information used to make medical decisions about a particular individual’s status. The health care provider cannot deny this request of records if the patient is behind on paying their medical bills. However, there may be a fee charged for obtaining copies of these medical records, but no additional expense for retrieving this patient data.
The Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis S. Collins, explained to The New York Times that patients need to be provided with easy access to their medical records so that they can “take more control over decisions regarding their health.”