Another Made Up HIPAA Barrier:Will It Ever End?

I am, once again, befuddled by the obstacles institutions create to withhold medical records.  Today, I experienced  the absolute nonsense of a nursing home to block handing over medical notes to a family member who is the designated healthcare proxy.

The story goes like this.  The daughter, who is the healthcare proxy, over a month ago requested her mother’s medical notes.  She received no notes or information on when they were coming.  This was the first HIPAA violation.  The law states the institutions have to specify how long it will take.

She contacted me and I told her to ask exactly when she could expect the documents and as her healthcare proxy with the appropriate form in the chart, she had the right to request them.  She received a reply from the  director stating that all record requests had to be reviewed by the legal department and she would get back to her.  She was still not told how long it would take.

Several days later, she received a forwarded email from the legal department.  It said, the daughter had to send a letter with her signature and a copy of the power of attorney to the corporate offices some thousand miles away.  My client then forwarded it to me and commented, “this sounds like baloney.”

It does sound so official, bureaucratic and intimidating it is still baloney!  First, there was never anything stated about a power of attorney from the daughter.  Second, she is the healthcare proxy.  Third, unless the legal department is the HIPAA compliance office (which according to the law is supposed to be separate), then they should have nothing to do with it.  Finally, I was ready to blow a fuse!

I told the daughter, to reiterate that she was the healthcare proxy and the HIPAA law is clear on who can ask for notes.  It is also clear on the timeliness of receiving those notes. I suggested, she  request to speak with the HIPAA compliance officer , a requirement of the law.  Since I am an expert in the HIPAA law, I offered to speak with any involved parties.  It may look as if the institution is protecting the resident but it is just an unnecessary barrier.

I told the daughter if nothing changes in the next three days, she has the option to call the Ombudsman or file a complaint with the state department of HIPAA compliance.  She asked me, “do you think they are hiding something?”  This is the exact question I hear when barriers make it difficult to obtain medical records.  It generally is not the case.

As I said, I have yet to figure out why these ridiculous barriers exist.  Just a reminder: HIPAA law was enacted for the patient not the institution.