The HIPAA Privacy Rule has always provided individuals with the right to access and receive a copy of their health information from their doctors, hospitals and health insurance plans. This right is critical to enabling individuals to take ownership of 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 request fixes to errors in their records, track progress in wellness or disease management programs, and directly contribute their information to research. As the health care system evolves and transforms into one supported by rapid, secure exchange of electronic health information and more targeted treatments discovered through the new precision medicine model of patient-powered research, it is more important than ever for individuals to have ready access to their health information. Unfortunately, based on recent studies and our own enforcement experience, far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information, even from entities required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This must change.
Today, we took an important step toward ensuring that individuals can take advantage of their HIPAA right of access. We released a fact sheet and the first in a series of topical Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to further clarify individuals’ core right under HIPAA to access and obtain a copy of their health information. This set of FAQs addresses the scope of information covered by HIPAA’s access right, the very limited exceptions to this right, the form and format in which information is provided to individuals, the requirement to provide access to individuals in a timely manner, and the intersection of HIPAA’s right of access with the requirements for patient access under the HITECH Act’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program.
We will continue to develop additional guidance and other tools as necessary to ensure that individuals understand and can exercise their right to access their health information. In addition, the Office for Civil Rights will work with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) to produce consumer-friendly resources, including sample communications tools to encourage patients to access their digital health information.
The first set of materials may be found on OCR’s website at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/guidance/access/index.html
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, your civil rights, and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/
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