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New Rules Give Patients Better Access to Medical Records

34453447_sA recent article in the New York Times explains new guidelines issued this month that aim to give patients easier access to their own medical information.  In our view, this is an extremely important development, because having access to medical information allows people to take control of their own healthcare, and to find and fix potentially dangerous errors in their records.  After a car accident that results in injuries, or an illness requiring hospitalization, it is important that people be informed about their care.

As the article notes, patients have long had the right to view their own medical records, but they frequently face obstacles that prevent them from exercising that right.

“Jump Through Hoops”

One of the most frequent complaints received by the Department of Health and Human Services is the difficulty patients experience in obtaining copies of their medical records. Understandably, many were frustrated by having to “jump through hoops” just to gain access to their own health information or that of their young children.

Some of these hurdles included:

  • Healthcare providers would require that the patient provide a sufficient reason for requesting the records
  • Doctors’ offices were often slow to respond, taking months to fulfill a request for records
  • Patients would be charged a fee, sometimes amounting to hundreds or thousands of dollars, for the time spent searching for, obtaining, and mailing the information

New Guidelines Eliminate Many Hurdles for Patients

Under the new rules, healthcare providers:

  • Must fulfill the request for records within 30 days
  • Cannot require a patient to state a reason for requesting his/her own records
  • Cannot deny access to medical information to patients who have not yet paid their medical bills
  • Cannot require that patients pick the records up in person if they have requested to receive them by mail/email
  • May charge a fee to copy the records but NOT for the time spent searching for and obtaining them
  • Cannot deny a patient access to information the healthcare provider feels may cause the patient to be upset – UNLESS the provider has reason to believe the disclosure of that information is likely to endanger the life or safety of the patient or another person.

These rules are important because access to health information not only gives a patient a more active role in his/her treatment, but it can also help prevent mistakes, misinformation, and repetitive or unnecessary testing. Many hospitals are already on board, providing patients with access to online portals for viewing and monitoring their health data.

Our own Marion Munley has spoken at length about the dangers associated with electronic medical records, and the potential for mistakes in those records that are not discovered until it is too late. Access to complete, accurate documentation of one’s medical treatment also gives individuals more control over their legal recourse in the event of a car crash, work injury, or suspected hospital error.

If you or a loved one have been catastrophically hurt by hospital error or another type of accident, contact us to learn more about your legal rights.


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