American hospitals make it too hard for patients to access medical records

October 5, 2018, Yale University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Many top hospitals in the United States are making it unduly confusing or expensive for patients to gain access to their own medical records, say researchers at Yale. Their study appeared on Oct. 5 in JAMA Network Open.

Since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, federal law has guaranteed patients access to their protected health information in a timely manner, in a patient's preferred format, and at a reasonably low processing fee. In order to assess adherence to these guidelines, a team of researchers at Yale conducted scripted interviews with the medical records departments of 83 top-ranked U.S. hospitals across 29 states.

"There were overwhelming inconsistencies in information relayed to patients regarding the personal health information they are allowed to request, as well as the formats and costs of release, both within institutions and across institutions," said Carolyn Lye, first author on the study and a student at the Yale School of Medicine. "We also found considerable noncompliance with state and federal regulations and recommendations with respect to the costs and processing times associated with providing access to medical records."

On their request forms, only 53% of the hospitals indicated an option for patients to acquire their full medical record; however, when asked over the telephone, all 83 hospitals stated that they were able to release entire medical records to patients. Also, as Lye indicated, the team found discrepancies between the information hospitals provided over the phone versus on their request forms about the possible formats (i.e. electronic, paper, in person) in which patients could request their records to be released, thus violating the federal regulation that hospitals must provide the medical record in whatever format a patient prefers. Finally, the researchers found that 58% of the hospitals had costs for releasing the records that were above the federal recommendation of $6.50 for medical records housed electronically, with one charging as much as $541.50 for a 200-page record.

"Stricter enforcement of the patients' right of access under HIPAA is necessary to ensure that the medical records request process across hospitals is easy to navigate, timely, and affordable," said Lye. "We are also in an era in which patients are participants in their own health care. Inhibiting access for patients to their own with complicated, lengthy, and costly request processes prevents from obtaining that they may need to better understand their medical conditions and communicate with their physicians."

Explore further: Mandate patient access to primary care medical records

More information: JAMA Network Open (2018). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.3014

Related Stories

Mandate patient access to primary care medical records

July 23, 2018
Canada's provincial governments should mandate patient access to their electronic medical records, argue authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

It's 2018. Do you know where your medical records are?

August 31, 2018
Can you imagine a future where the question "Did you bring a copy of your test results?" becomes entirely unnecessary?

Medicare will require hospitals to post prices online

April 25, 2018
Medicare will require hospitals to post their standard prices online and make electronic medical records more readily available to patients, officials said Tuesday.

Protecting your electronic health records

February 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—An electronic health record, or EHR, is the digital version of the paper records documenting your health care. These online records are an advance in health management in many ways.

Many hospitals still not using digital patient health information

October 2, 2017
U.S. hospitals are making slow progress in ensuring that their providers have access to patients' complete electronic health records when those patients have also received care from outside providers, according to a new study ...

Increased communication between hospitals improves patient care and survival rates

July 16, 2018
Well more than a million patients are transferred between hospitals each year in the U.S. This process is challenging both for hospitals and patients and breakdowns in communication are common.

Recommended for you

Juul e-cigarettes pose addiction risk for young users, study finds

October 19, 2018
Teens and young adults who use Juul brand e-cigarettes are failing to recognize the product's addictive potential, despite using it more often than their peers who smoke conventional cigarettes, according to a new study by ...

Self-lubricating latex could boost condom use: study

October 17, 2018
A perpetually unctuous, self-lubricating latex developed by a team of scientists in Boston could boost the use of condoms, they reported Wednesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Engineered enzyme eliminates nicotine addiction in preclinical tests

October 17, 2018
Scientists at Scripps Research have successfully tested a potential new smoking-cessation treatment in rodents.

Nutrition has a greater impact on bone strength than exercise

October 17, 2018
One question that scientists and fitness experts alike would love to answer is whether exercise or nutrition has a bigger positive impact on bone strength.

How healthy will we be in 2040?

October 17, 2018
A new scientific study of forecasts and alternative scenarios for life expectancy and major causes of death in 2040 shows all countries are likely to experience at least a slight increase in lifespans. In contrast, one scenario ...

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.