Dear Hospital Administrator: My Records Are Mine

It seems at least several times a week, I get a call  or question in “Ask Hari” regarding medical records.  Most of the questions are “Why won’t the hospital or practice give me my notes?”  with the majority hospital related.     I thought HIPAA solved this problem.  Silly me, it seems to have complicated the issue.

I find the most common problem is, in regards to, hospitals releasing information to families or patients who want notes while inpatient. The reason people want these notes is because information is not often communicated well, lab results are not given and medication changes are not explained.  It is very frustrating for families and patients who just want more information.

My most recent request came from a family with a loved one inpatient.  They were told no and had to wait till the following week to speak with the compliance officer (all medical facilities/practices are required to designate a HIPAA compliance person).  They were asking me how to file a complaint.  I could tell their frustration.

There are several places to file a complaint.  The HIPAA law designates the Office of Civil Rights.  There are regional offices,  I also tell people to file a complaint with the hospital and the State Attorney General’s office.

Floor staff including nurses and residents are told to deny requests for real time documentation.  When asked  why, the answer is because it is policy.  I have yet to have a reasonable explanation as to why from administrators, when I make the request for families.  I, on the other hand, as an advocate with a HIPAA release, can look at records and sometimes even get copies.

I am a solution oriented person.  As advocate that is my main job.  My solution for this problem  is two fold.  I first ask to speak with the hospital attorney on call.  If that doesn’t work, I go directly to medical records and ask for copy of the records.  Since most records are electronic, they are available.

The real issue here is, why do hospitals insist on having these anxiety producing and senseless policies?  Who are they protecting?  The policy is not transparent and makes patients feel as if there is something being hid.  It certainly doesn’t build trust.  What is there to hide?