Patients already have the right to request their medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  But that doesn’t mean it has been easy to do so or that medical and health care providers have complied.

Recognizing that issue, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new guidelines on January 7th outlining new requirements intended to make it easier for patients to do so.  Those guidelines are titled “Individuals’ Right under HIPAA to Access their Health Information 45 CFR Sec. 164.524” and can be found on the HHS website (www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/access/index.html).

It’s a very long regulation so here are some of the key points individuals should know:

  • Doctors and hospitals, in most cases, have to provide patients with the requested copies within 30 days of getting the request;
  • Patients cannot be required to provide a reason for asking for the records;
  • Patients cannot be refused access to or copies of the records and information out of a concern that they’ll be upset by getting the requested information;
  • Health care providers cannot require that patients pick up the records in person if the patient has asked to have the records mailed or emailed to them;
  • Health care providers cannot refuse a patient’s request if the patient has unpaid medical bills;
  • Patients can be charged a fee to cover copying costs but cannot be charged for the cost of searching and retrieving the information.

These are important steps so patients understand their situations more fully and, if needed, be better advocates for themselves and their needed health care.