Healthcare IT News recently published a story featuring some major changes coming out of the Health and Human Services department which will affect all healthcare patients in the country. The HHS is not a newcomer to this territory; the HHS is the enforcement arm of the recent and long-in-coming digitization of the healthcare industry. But their newest focus is on helping patients gain access to their own healthcare records and other healthcare related information.
The article details how the HHS has identified that patients are “…too often facing obstacles” in accessing their health information, which they have the legal right to do under HIPPA. One of the major goals of the HHS in overseeing the transition of the healthcare field to electronic records (and now with Stage 2 MU, patient portals) is to give patients quick access to their medical records. But the HHS has noted that this benefit has been slow to develop.
In my experience, patients are often completely unaware of what their rights are as far as access to their records goes. They often expect their doctors to turn over their medical records if they ask for it, but they often have no idea that they can request all of their medical information which is used for billing purposes from their insurance company for example. This can be invaluable if they are disputing a claim. With the proliferation of vendors who have access to their healthcare records, they can also request that those entities turn over any PHI information they possess.
But often healthcare providers and other participants in the healthcare sector may also be unaware of their responsibilities as far as providing patients with access to their records. You always hope that this is out of an abundance of caution; the fines for HIPPA violations involving exposure of patient data to unauthorized persons are nothing to sneeze at, not to mention the damage to your institution’s reputation. Some of the barriers they put in place may also be simply a result of the bureaucratic nature of the business; they may not realize the barriers even exist if they aren’t looking for them.
While the article is light on the specifics on what the HHS will be doing, I hope that it involves some additional education. HIPPA is complex, and since it has a number of gaps which are also covered by the HITECH Act, it can be difficult to understand even for industry practitioners. Additional education for both the health care system and for patients cannot hurt.