ONC Responds to ROI Questions During AHIMA Webinar

This summer has demonstrated hope for consumers and the health information management (HIM) professionals who have long been frustrated by the confusion that can ensue when a patient requests access to their health information. AHIMA and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) both released materials in July aimed at making these processes smoother for everyone involved. And on Wednesday AHIMA hosted a webinar with ONC officials to discuss tips for providers looking to facilitate a smoother, more transparent records retrieval process.

The webinar “Improving the Records Request Process for Patients” featured a discussion with Lana Moriarty, director of consumer eHealth at ONC, and Margeaux Akazawa, a public health analyst at ONC. Terming HIM professionals as the “unsung heroes” of the release of information (ROI) process, Moriarty described ONC’s intentions behind its new report, “Improving the Health Records Request Process,” which takes an in-depth look at the most problematic areas of requesting and releasing records.

“We recognize this [patient requests for their own records] are just one of the hundreds of requests that come into an HIM office every day,” Moriarty said. “Individual access requests are a very small percentage of requests compared to third parties. By looking at consumer and provider experience we found there are shared needs. On the patient side it’s about having electronic requests that are quick and painless, allowing patients to choose formats and delivery methods, and allowing them to track the status of requests. On the provider side it’s having forms filled out correctly, being able to identify identity very quickly. That’s our impetus for moving this forward.”

Tips for Responding to Patient Requests

Moriarty and Akazawa said one thing they heard repeatedly from patients is that it was frustrating to not be able to tell if a provider had even received their request for information—whether their request was sent through their portal, through an email, via fax, or through forms they filled out in their provider’s office. They couldn’t understand why they had the ability to track a package when they purchased something online, yet were unable to determine for sure whether their doctor’s office had sent information to another doctor’s office. On the flip side, provider offices can become frustrated if patients incorrectly fill out request forms or don’t provide all of the information required to facilitate a request.

“For HIPAA we really encourage all health systems make it clear all the different options that are available where patients can request their records. HIPAA offers a lot of flexibility in allowing a number of different forms that meet the population,” Akazawa said.

In response to a listener question about how to make sure people living in low-income communities can access their information electronically, Moriarty talked about ONC’s work with the Washington, DC-area provider Unity Healthcare. She said Unity found that while many of their patients didn’t have home access to the Internet, they likely used a mobile device like their smartphone. Unity Healthcare stations staff members in reception and waiting room areas in order to help walk patients through the portal sign-up process on their phone.

“Take advantage of time while they’re in the clinical setting and show them how easy it is to access on their mobile device,” Moriarty said.

Another listener asked if Moriarty and Akazawa can envision a future in which there could be a single nationwide standardized process that all parties could follow to release records.

“We’d love that, but that gets us into tricky area with federal versus state law. Right now we’re pushing for consistency and we’re thrilled AHIMA put out their model form and we’ll see a lot more work on this in the coming year,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty and Akazawa both stressed that ONC wants to hear from providers about their satisfaction with new reports and policies and encouraged webinar listeners to be in touch.

“The only way for us to make these better is to know how they’re being used in the field. This is about having the best outreach and the way to do that is to hear from you about what’s working in the field. Look at resources, read the report, let us know what you think,” Moriarty concluded.

Click here for slides from the webinar.

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

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