Patient Guidebook on Health Record Access Published by ONC

A new patient guidebook on health record access has been published by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). The guidebook explains how patients can access their health data, offers tips for checking health records and correcting mistakes, and explains how patients can use their health records and share their health data.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule gave patients the right to obtain copies of health information held by their providers, yet even though the Privacy Rule became effective on April 14, 2001, many Americans are still not aware of their right to access their health data or how they can do so.

Improving patient access to health data is a top priority for the HHS and ONC. In 2016, ONC released a series of videos for patients in which their right to access their own health data was explained. The latest guidebook takes that guidance a step further and serves as a practical guide to obtaining copies of electronic heath data to make the process as easy as possible.

The ONC Guide to Getting and Using your Health Data is part of the ONC’s MyHealthEData initiative, which aims to improve patient engagement in their own healthcare and supports the 21st Century Cures Act goal of improving access to electronic health information.

“It’s important that patients and their caregivers have access to their own health information so they can make decisions about their care and treatments,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health information technology. “This guide will help answer some of the questions that patients may have when asking for their health information.”

While patients have the right to access their health data, many still face challenges getting access. One of the aims of the new online document is to explain how patients can overcome those challenges. One of those challenges is resistance from healthcare providers when patients request electronic copies of their health data.

By making sure patients are aware of their rights, if they encounter resistance from a provider – or health plan – they will be able to clearly explain their rights and will be empowered to overcome that resistance.

Ensuring patients can easily access their health record is only part of the problem. Many patients do not understand why they should view their health record and the importance of doing so. The guidebook helps to explain the benefits and why it is important to take a more active role in their own healthcare.

Figures recently released by ONC show that while 52% of patients have been offered access to their health records online, only half of those patients viewed their health record, equivalent to 28% of Americans.

When patients were asked why they did not view their medical record when they could do so online, 76% said they preferred to speak with their provider directly and 59% did not have a need to use their online record.

ONC’s figures show that when patients are encouraged to view their health data by their providers they are more likely to do so. 63% of patients who were encouraged to access their medical record online did so compared to just 38% who were not encouraged to check. Healthcare providers can therefore play a big part in improving patient engagement. The new guidebook will also help in that regard.

The guidebook also offers practical advice on the use of health apps and other technologies that can help patients manage their health data and improve their health.

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.