The HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has given covered entities tips to improve patient data access, explaining how important it is for patients to be given access to their health information.
In its report – Improving the Health Records Request Process for Patients – ONC explains that under HIPAA Rules, patients are given the right to access their records. Healthcare organisations must provide patients with copies of their health information within 30 days of the request being received. However, in many cases, patients are not fully aware of their rights and patients are not given much information on the process.
While patients can request electronic copies of their medical records, some healthcare organizations are only providing paper copies that are being faxed or mailed to patients. When electronic copies are provided, it is often in PDF form via a CD. HIPAA Rules may be satisfied, but many healthcare organizations are relying on antiquated methods for providing data and data are not being provided in the most useful form.
ONC said in the report, “In the current records request process, patients and health systems are often at odds, as each struggle through an inefficient system to accomplish needed tasks with limited resources.” It was also pointed out that patients and healthcare providers actually share the same goals and have a shared need. If healthcare providers can overcome the challenges of accessing and providing health data to patients, it would be a win-win scenario for providers and patients.
For the report, ONC conducted 17 interviews with patients to discover the challenges they faced when attempting to gain access to their health information. ONC also analysed the release process at 50 large healthcare systems.
While patient data access should be a straightforward process, ONC found the reality is many healthcare providers are struggling to fulfil requests. When health information is found, it is often provided in an unusual format and information is often missing.
The process is usually triggered by a health crisis or other event and the patient contacts their healthcare provider and requests a copy of their health data. ONC says, what happens next is something of a ‘black hole’ where patients don’t know what is happening. It can also take a long time for complete records to be obtained.
One of the key ways that healthcare providers can streamline the process is by having all health records online. This would give providers and patients easy access to entire health records. If patients can view their records via the patient portal, this would make life easier for all concerned.
ONC also suggests the process of obtaining records should be streamlined, communicated in language patients will understand and patients should be kept informed of the progress of their request – such as via a status bar or progress tracker in their patient portal.
ONC’s full list of tips to improve patient data access can be downloaded on this link.