On May 31, 2012, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Director of the Office of Civil Rights Leon Rodriguez issued a memo to consumers regarding those consumers’ right to access their protected health information and medical records. In this memo, Rodriguez stressed that it is important for consumers and providers to remember that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) not only provides protection for personal health information, but also provides consumers with the right to view and obtain copies of health records.
Many providers, when dealing with HIPAA compliance, tend to focus on safeguarding protected health information, but fail to recognize the importance of patient rights including the right to access. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to view their health records from most providers, pharmacies, and health plans. Patients also have the right to obtain copies of those records in the form they choose, be it electronic or on paper, if the provider is able to do so.
Providers can charge patients a reasonable amount for the copies of health records the patient receives, and any cost for mailing the records. This amount is statutorily regulated in most states. It is important to note that a provider cannot charge a fee for searching for and retrieving records, and providers cannot withhold access to records because a patient has not paid for services received.