Releasing medical records

Individuals have the right, per federal law, to access their medical records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives patients the right to access their health information and medical records.

Unfortunately, the hospitals releasing this information are not always consistent in how they deliver that information and what they communicate to patients.

A recent study looked into the issue of hospital medical record requests.

A total of 83 hospitals were included in the study.

Researchers contacted each of the hospitals and requested the forms necessary to obtain medical records. When contacting the hospitals, they asked how much it would cost to obtain the records, how long the process would take, what format the records would be in, and whether all of the information would be included.

The researchers who made the calls pretended to be a relative of a grandmother who was seeking a second medical opinion. They did not disclose that the information was being used for a study.

The hospitals’ responses varied greatly. Here are some of the findings:

  • Cost: 82 of the 83 hospitals disclosed the cost of obtaining medical records: 59 percent of hospitals reported costs that were higher than what is recommended by the government (which is $6.50 for electronic records)
  • Length of process: 71 hospitals reported mean times for release of medical records. Of those:
    • 21 percent reported the process would take less than 7 days
    • 25 percent reported the process would take 7 to 10 days
    • 31 percent reported the process would take 11 to 20 days
    • 5 percent reported the process would take 21 to 30 days
    • 4 percent reported the process would take more than 30 days
  • What information is included: Every hospital told patients that they could access their complete medical records, but only 53 percent indicated this on the paper forms

The study highlights the discrepancies in how hospitals release patient records, and how they communicate to patients. These inconsistencies highlight the importance for patients to know their rights.

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