ONC Report Details Knowledge Gap in Medical Record Request Policies

The frustrations consumers face in obtaining copies of their own medical records is not lost on federal health IT officials. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) factored in interviews with 17 consumers, and analyzed the medical records release of information forms of 50 large hospitals and health systems for their newly released report, “Improving the Health Records Request Process.”

The report revealed some findings that shouldn’t come as a surprise to health information management (HIM) professionals or the consumers they’re tasked with empowering through their health information.

“Consumers don’t know their options or their rights when it comes to transferring their records,” the authors wrote. “For providers and practices, this comes down to making sure all their staff understand what HIPAA does and doesn’t mandate, and what their health record systems are capable of — so they can communicate clearly with their patients.”

The report came to the following conclusions, among others, on ways to make the records request process less cumbersome:

  • Allow patients to easily request and receive their records from their patient portal
  • Setting up an electronic records request system outside of the patient portal
  • Creating a user-friendly, plain language online request process
  • Making sure consumers know that they can request their record in different formats (such as PDF or CD) and delivered in the way they choose (such as by e-mail or sent to a third party)

Coincidentally, this report was released at nearly the same time AHIMA’s free new Patient Request for Health Information Form was unveiled for the public. In releasing its form, AHIMA, like ONC, acknowledged that patients often don’t understand the full extent of their rights when it comes to asking for their information. By the same token, even some individuals working in medical records release of information aren’t always up to date on the latest guidance from the government.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.

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