As we age and make more visits to doctors, many of my peers (and myself) have taken charge of gathering our health information. We have made it a standard practice to always request copies of test results- blood, colonoscopy, mammograms. However, when trying to access records that you may not have paper copies of, it is often confusing and time consuming to request and receive your own health records.

According to the American Health to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) patient’s ability to access their own information is an essential right under HIPAA regulations). However, patient data access is often misunderstood, and patients may not know what information they are able to obtain from their providers.

According to ONC, in a 28 page report called “Improving the Health Records Request Process for Patients” HIPAA regulations allow for patients to request access to their own health data. However, even with the regulation in place, patients and caregivers still face challenges in receiving the needed information in a timely manner.

Often, when consumers request their records, the wait can be long. HIPAA regulations allow up to 30 days for providers to supply the information, but consumers are often not aware of the process. Then, when health providers respond to the request, the records are often given in an “antiquated” manner with a stack of printed records that is faxed or mailed, or a set of PDF files on a CD. Patient records often are inaccurate or incomplete and this can result in unnecessary repeated tests and procedures.

According to the report, ONC recommends the following to streamline and improve the patient data access process:
• Allow patients to easily request and receive their records from their patient portal
• Set up an electronic records request system outside of the patient portal
• Create a user-friendly, plain language online request process
• Use e-verification to quickly confirm the record requestor’s identity
• Include a status bar or progress tracker so consumers can see where they are in the request process
• Make sure consumers know that they can request their record in different formats
• Provide user friendly, plain language instructions for patients and caregivers on how to request health records, what to expect, and who to contact with questions
• Encourage patients to use patient portals by promoting features like online appointment scheduling, secure messaging, and prescription refills

ONC report states, “When individuals get, review, use and share copies of their health information, they are better able to monitor chronic conditions, make sure that their health information is accurate, and share their information with others ensuring that their health information is available at the right place and at the right time.”