If you have suffered a workplace injury or have been faced with other serious medical issues, you may have sought the care of one or more medical providers who have kept records of your medical ailments, medications and overall treatment. These medical records can provide you with critical information needed to seek further medical care or related services.
Despite a patient’s long-existing right to access their medical records, many health care providers fail to acknowledge a patient’s right to get their records. Federal officials say that they receive large numbers of complaints from consumers about obstacles they face when requesting their medical records from providers – the complaints are among the top five issues investigated by the Office for Civil Rights pointing to the difficulties many consumers face.
Clearly, some health care providers still don’t understand that patients have a right to get their medical records. Some doctors may believe that medical records are intended only for doctor-to-doctor communication and that patients would not understand those records. They may also be shielding patients from information that may prove upsetting. However, on a less flattering note, other providers may hesitate to provide patients broad access to their medical records fearing patients will then share their findings with competing health care providers – a financial disincentive in terms of lost business or even a finding of medical malpractice.
In response to the widespread issue, the Obama administration has issued new guidelines to break down the barriers that make it difficult for patients to acquire their own medical records. With few exceptions, providers are now required to provide copies of medical records within 30 days of receiving a request, even if a patient fails to pay for medical services. Records must be sent as directed – mail or email options now replace the necessity for picking up records in person – and a doctor or a hospital may not impose a fee for searching or retrieving records.
Many patients find the new guidelines empowering. With ready access to medical records, families can be better advocates for their loved ones and individuals can make more informed decisions about their care – more information translates into better services for those requiring medical care.
Source: New York Times, “New Guidelines Nudge Doctors to Give Patients Access to Medical Records”, by Robert Pear, January 16, 2016.