On September 10, 2021, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the resolution of its twentieth investigation under its HIPAA Right of Access Initiative. In early 2019, OCR stated that they would create an initiative to enforce patients’ right of access to their own health information in a timely and reasonable manner. This concept is not novel to OCR as it has already been outlined as a stated goal of HIPAA within the Privacy Rule. This aspect of HIPAA has been enforced at various times in the past, however it has never been enforced with any regularity until the OCR initiative was established. To date, OCR has remained dedicated to ensuring that every patient is afforded access to their health information that HIPAA has long stated such patients deserve.
In OCR’s latest settlement, a hospital and medical center located in Omaha, Nebraska agreed to take corrective actions and pay $80,000 to settle a potential violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The alleged violation stems from a May 2020 complaint filed by a parent alleging that the hospital had failed to provide her with timely access to her minor daughter’s medical records. The hospital provided some records, but did not provide all of the requested records to the parent’s multiple follow-up requests. OCR alleged that the hospital failed to provide timely access to the requested medical records and thus potentially violated the HIPAA right of access standard. That standard generally requires a covered entity to take action on an access request within 30 days of receipt (or within 60 days if an extension is applicable). As a result of OCR’s investigation, the parent did in fact receive all of the requested records.
Healthcare providers often afford heightened focus to preventing unauthorized access or sharing of health information, which sometimes means that less focus is given to providing quick and affordable health records to patients. In light of OCR’s initiative and dedication to enforce patients’ right of access under the Privacy Rule, healthcare providers should take care to be knowledgeable about this aspect of their operations.