Bioethics Blogs

Revised Medical Access Records Guidelines Reinforce Patient Rights

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

A few years ago I moved cross-country for a new job. Among the many moving tasks that I had was getting copies of all my medical records so I could bring those to my new physicians. Although I am very aware of HIPAA taught it in my bioethics and health policy courses for many years, I encountered obstacles to getting these records. Some of the refusals were phrased to my benefit: “If you take them then we have to charge but if we send directly to your new doctor, then there’s no charge;” “We’ll send them to you so you don’t need to carry them” and showed up months later in forwarded mail. Still others required a written request, on a specific form, and even then, never sent the records.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recently unveiled its revised guidelines for giving patients access to their medical records. The goal is to prevent the sort of difficulties that I encountered. Although HIPAA gave us all the right to our records, DHHS said it has received a large number of complaints. Among the common reasons for noncompliance is a hospital or office requirement that the patient state a reason for access, requiring a certain format for picking up the records, holding records hostage because of an unpaid bill, and protecting the patient from potentially upsetting information. Under the new guidelines, such behavior is not permitted.

The revision is more of a reminder of the HIPAA rules rather than a big change.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.