On December 10, 2020, the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed vast changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Currently, the law makes it clear that patients are the owners of their own personal medical records. Medical entities and doctors are required to disclose medical records at patient request, in the format the patient requested, within a reasonable amount of time, and at a reasonable cost.
Despite best intentions, this has not always been the case. Anyone who has ever tried to request their medical records, or request records on behalf of someone else, has surely been met with hoops to jump through, long wait times, and high costs. These limitations do not go without repercussions, such as in the case of Annette Monachelli, who died of a brain aneurysm before CT scan orders could make their way through the system to the appropriate department.
Therefore, the goal of these changes is to make it easier to gain access to patient medical records. If put into practice, these changes are expected to empower patients, reduce administrative costs related to medical record retrieval, and better coordinate legal services and medical care.
Notice of Privacy Forms
Currently, HIPAA requires medical providers to keep a record of “notice of privacy practices” forms for 6 years after they’ve been signed. Instead, the newly suggested language for HIPAA describes an alternative, where healthcare providers merely need to inform patients of where privacy practices can be found. With nothing to be signed or saved, this change alone is estimated to save $3.2 billion over 5 years.
Roger Severino, director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights claims keeping up with these forms only wastes resources and causes more harm than good. The language on the form confuses patients; some shared they thought they were signing away their right to privacy entirely. It also creates holes in treatment when patients don’t sign; cases have been reported of medical providers refusing treatment without these signatures.
Fast and Free Records
Severino and his government counterparts stated they do not believe that “a patient’s personal medical records should be profit centers for providers”. Because of this, the HIPAA overhaul contains provisions for an electronic document system that patients can access and share free of charge. Records will be required to be uploaded to the system within 15 days of the request, shredding the previous allotment for wait time by half.
Patients will also be permitted to take photos, with their smartphone for example, of any of their records while at their provider’s office. This includes records such as x-rays and other types of scans. They will also be able to permit their doctors to request their medical records from another office.
These new rules and permissions are not only beneficial to patients, but also attorneys representing these patients in workers’ compensation, personal injury, Social Security cases, and more. Attorneys depend on medical records to effectively represent their clients in many types of cases. This sometimes requires paying large medical record retrieval fees that in turn fall on the client to reimburse. In addition, long wait times for these records creates problems for everyone involved. Timely receipt of accurate medical records can make or break a case.
The rule is open for public comment through mid-February. 180 days after that it will become final, however, enforcement of the new rule will not begin until another 240 days after publishing.
How Schaffer & Associates Can Help
Managing medical records is just one of the many frustrating aspects faced when trying to deal with a legal matter on your own. It’s a good idea to meet with an attorney if you’ve been injured at work or want to apply for Social Security Disability. At Schaffer & Associates, our experienced attorneys offer free consultations during which they can assess your case and help you begin applications and appeals processes.
Contact us online or by calling (419) 350-8277.