Empowering Patients: New Videos to Promote Access to Electronic Health Information

Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo and Jocelyn Samuels | June 2, 2016

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a HIPAA fact sheet earlier this year reinforcing patients’ right to access their health information and clarifying, among other things, that patients may be charged only limited fees for copies of their health information.  Many people are not fully aware of their right to access their own medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), including the right to access an electronic copy when their health information is stored electronically.

Providing individuals with easy access to their health information empowers them to be more in control of decisions regarding their health and well-being.  Individuals with access to their health information are better able to monitor chronic conditions, adhere to treatment plans, find and fix errors, and directly contribute their information to research.   A recent consumer survey  from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) found that over 8 in 10 individuals who had accessed their records online considered the information very or somewhat useful.  In addition, research has found that when individuals have access to, and use, their health information electronically, they feel a greater sense of trust in how their health information is being managed and in how providers are protecting their patient rights.

OCR’s guidance on HIPAA provides a wealth of valuable and detailed information about patients’ rights.  But it is important that this information be equally accessible to patients and other participants in the medical system.  To address this need, ONC and OCR have teamed up to develop a set of easy-to-understand educational tools in English and Spanish.

Today, we are releasing three videos  that discuss these topics. The first video, “Individual’s Right under HIPAA to Access their Health Information,” addresses the basics of the HIPAA access right.  Importantly, the video explains that access may only be denied in limited circumstances; it makes clear that the fact that a patient has not yet paid her medical bill is not one of them.

Video two, “HIPAA Access Associated Fees and Timing,” provides viewers clear answers to patients’ most commonly asked questions such as, “can I be charged a fee for a copy of my health information?” and, “how long may it take to get a copy of my health  information once I have requested it?” This video also explains when access should be free, such as through a patient portal.

Our final video, “HIPAA Access and Third Parties,” focuses on the right of patients to request that their health information be sent to a third party, such as a family member or even a mobile application.  Having the right and capability to direct health information elsewhere is an important and empowering step toward achieving patient-centered care.

These videos will be available at HealthIT.gov/access and on OCR’s website and will be disseminated to health care providers and stakeholder organizations in order to serve as an educational tool for individuals and patients who then may have the opportunity to hear these messages in their physician’s office or a medical center.

New Videos and Patient Engagement Playbook Go Hand-in-Hand

We encourage clinicians and their office staff the information in these videos which, if combined with the information included in the Patient Engagement Playbook ONC also released today, can aid providers in engaging their patients.  This, in turn, will enable individuals to use tools such as portals and apps to manage their health information.

Empowering individuals to access and to move their information where and when it is needed the most is just one of the ways we’re working to enhance the connection between patients and providers, and improve communication within the health care ecosystem.