News Feature | November 13, 2014

Accessing EHR Data Difficult For Patients

Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer


Patients who want copies of their medical records from an electronic source at their physician’s office report difficulties obtaining the information.

One of the goals of digitizing medical records is making them easier to access for patients. Yet reports indicate patients are having problems accessing their records. According to iHealth Beat, HIPAA requires providers to give patients access to their records within 30 days for a reasonable cost. So why are some providers having trouble enabling patient access of health records?

“You should be able to walk into a provider’s office and say, ‘I want a copy’- you are legally entitled to that,” I. Glenn Cohen, a professor at Harvard Law School told the New York Times. But there are a series of hurdles that prevent patients from doing so. “The medical record is held hostage,” Cohen said. “The reason is often to keep a customer or keep a patient from leaving the practice.”

Some of the hurdles patients have to accessing their records include:

  • high fees for obtaining records
  • privacy concerns related to HIPAA
  • stipulations regarding how requests can be made and obtained
  • variation in use of paper records versus electronic health records (EHRs)

“When hospitals talk about HIPAA or charge for releasing records what they’re really saying is, ‘I don’t want to do this and I have to find an excuse,’ ” said Dr. David Blumenthal former national health information technology coordinator. “HIPAA is used in all sorts of distorted ways, because ‘protecting privacy’ sounds good.”

HIPAA is no excuse for not allowing patients access to their own records though, since studies have found most patients (94 percent) are willing to share their data with researchers if it improved care and outcomes.