Patients Often Face Barriers to Obtaining Medical Records

gmrPatients looking to obtain copies of their health records continue to face various obstacles, despite initiatives aimed at digitizing the U.S. health care system and increasing access to medical records, the New York Times‘ “Sunday Review” reports.


Under HIPAA, health care providers are required to respond to patients’ requests to view their medical records within 30 days for a reasonable cost (Rosenthal, “Sunday Review,” New York Times, 11/8).

Further, Stage 2 of the meaningful use program requires that at least 5% of individuals be provided with online access to their health information to “view, download or transmit their records at least once.”

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health records can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments (iHealthBeat, 9/16).

Access Barriers

Despite the push to digitize medical records, patients still face several obstacles to obtaining their health records, including:

  • High fees for obtaining records;
  • Privacy concerns related to HIPAA;
  • Stipulations regarding how requests can be made and obtained; and
  • Variation in use of paper records versus EHRs.

David Blumenthal — president of the Commonwealth Fund and former national coordinator for health IT — said that hospitals use HIPAA as an excuse not to release records, which hold economic value for providers. Blumenthal said, “HIPAA is used in all sorts of distorted ways, because ‘protecting privacy’ sounds good.”

Further, Harvard Law School professor I. Glenn Cohen said that some EHR vendors have intentionally not made their EHR programs interoperable to discourage patients from seeking care from providers who do not use their systems.

However, Blumenthal said a better flow of information could give patients more choice in their providers, reduce duplicative tests and assist researchers and clinicians in improving care (“Sunday Review,” New York Times, 11/8).

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