Who Owns Your Medical Records?

You might be thinking isn’t that a redundant questions since my records are about me?  I wish it were so simple.  Technically, your medical records are yours to access.  The HIPAA law was supposed to provide easier accessibility.  Unfortunately, I find this is not the case.

What the HIPAA law has done is give the individual the right to have access.  However, the access is not free.  The law allows for the provider and facility to charge “a reasonable fee” to be determined by the institution.  Have you ever tried to get your complete record and discovered it would cost perhaps over $200.00?  Especially if you have been in the hospital for any length of time.  If you ask for the complete record, not just do you get the important papers, but the pages with maybe one sentence or the electronic MD signature.

Interestingly, the HIPAA law was designed as way for medical professionals  to have an easy flow of information between offices.  This means that if you have signed a HIPAA form at your providers office and are then sent to a specialist, the specialist has the legal right to look at your medical record.  So does the insurance company and labs.  Everybody always asks for a HIPAA form to be filled out so the stream of information keeps growing, except to you!

Many hospitals and doctors groups have formed provider organizations.  For instance, in the Greater Boston area, there is a wide network of institutions and medical professionals who belong to a group call Partners.  This group all have the the same electronic medical record system, email address and access to reports and medical notes.  This means a doctor at Mass General hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital all have access to your medical records.

They have access but you do not.  Part of the Partners network is a patient portal called Patient Gateway.  It has lab and radiology results, ability to email providers, make appointments and a health library.  It does not have your doctor’s notes.  Is there something sacrosanct about the these notes?  Why aren’t they posted on the patient portal?  It can’t be about security because lab results are posted.

It is not always easy to get a copy of your records.  Some hospitals are requiring a notary stamp on the release form while others are insisting the request be faxed.  When I have to get medical records, I ask for only what I need.  For instance, if I want to read the doctors notes from a certain time period or certain lab results or a description of a surgery or radiology exam, I request only specific dates .  I know if I ask for the complete record, I will get many useless pages.  If I have any trouble, I contact the medical records supervisor.  I have to do that more than I like.

I also tell clients to ask for a copy of the visit at the end of each appointment.  If the provider is using an electronic medical record, they can print it immediately.  This will help to eliminate the hassle and cost of getting records later.

The worst facility for getting records is nursing homes.  Most don’t have electronic records and often do not even have a policy in place for releasing records.  I have to walk them through it by providing my company’s  HIPAA form .  I find they get flustered and always have to call their lawyers.

I am a supporter of the personal health record.  I am still looking for the program that will work.  The problem is the uploading of information is often incorrect and the systems don’t talk correctly to each other.  There has to be a way for my medical records to be mine without a cost or hassle.

I ask you to think, Who Owns Your Medical Records?