Patient Engagement

Empowered patients giddy over HHS guidance on records fees

A new CMS guidance calls for fee-free patient access to their health records.

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Healthcare providers, stop charging patients exorbitant fees to get copies of their medical records. In fact, give them access for free.

That’s the message from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as presented in a guidance released his week, and it has the empowered patient movement practically giddy.

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As HHS pointed out, the HIPAA privacy rule gives patients the right to see and received copies of their medical records, whether electronic or on paper. But hospitals and medical practices have put up financial and procedural barriers for years.

It’s not an absolute right, but it is broad. Even though providers are allowed to charge fees to cover the costs of photocopies, electronic media and postage, HHS now recommends that they do not.

According to the guidance:

[C]overed entities [under HIPAA] should provide individuals who request access to their information with copies of their [health information] free of charge. While covered entities should forgo fees for all individuals, not charging fees for access is particularly vital in cases where the financial situation of an individual requesting access would make it difficult or impossible for the individual to afford the fee. Providing individuals with access to their health information is a necessary component of delivering and paying for health care. We will continue to monitor whether the fees that are being charged to individuals are creating barriers to this access, will take enforcement action where necessary, and will reassess as necessary the provisions in the Privacy Rule that permit these fees to be charged.

The ink was barely dry — er, uploaded to the Internet — before the GetMyHealthData patient empowerment movement chimed in with excitement.

The guidance “is a home run for patients and families, and will be a big help to healthcare providers who need a clear interpretation of the law as health records have become digital,” said GetMyHealthData program coordinator Christine Bechtel.

“Patients continue to tell us that cost is a significant and unexpected barrier to getting their digital health information. They also struggle to have their records sent to consumer health apps, researchers and family caregivers. HHS is showing great leadership in addressing these issues,” Bechtel added.

Others in the community of empowered patients were equally enthused.

Photo: Flickr user Chad Weisser