Office for Civil Rights Announces 10th HIPAA Fine Under Right of Access Initiative

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has announced its 10th financial penalty under its HIPAA Right of Access enforcement initiative.

California-based Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group has agreed to pay a financial penalty of $25,000 to resolve a potential HIPAA Right of Access violation and will adopt a corrective action plan to ensure compliance with this important provision of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The HHS will monitor Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group for 2 years to ensure continued compliance.

OCR launched an investigation following receipt of a complaint from a patient in March 2019 alleging Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group failed to provide a copy of her medical records after she had made several requests, with the first request made in February 2019.

OCR contacted Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group and provided technical assistance on how the practice could comply with the HIPAA Right of Access and the case was closed. A month later, in April 2019, a second complaint was received from the patient saying she had still not been provided with her medical records, despite OCR’s intervention.

OCR reopened the investigation and determined that Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group had potentially violated the HIPAA Right of Access after failing to take any action. Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group explained that the request for records included psychotherapy notes and, as such, the practice was not required to comply.

OCR explained that psychotherapy notes do not need to be provided to patients; however, in cases when requests are received, requestors must be provided with a written explanation as to why the requested records will not be provided, either entirely or in part and access should be provided to parts of medical records that do not include psychotherapy notes. Riverside Psychiatric Medical Group had not written to the patient to explain why the request had been denied.

After OCR’s second intervention, the patient was provided with a copy of her medical records in October 2019, as requested, minus the psychotherapy notes.

“When patients request copies of their health records, they must be given a timely response, not a run-around,” said OCR Director Roger Severino in a statement about the settlement.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.