HIPAA privacy rules: What you should know about access to medical records before switching doctors

CINCINNATI -- Leaving one doctor and finding another can be a challenge in itself, let alone requesting medical records. But how do you get your records from one doctor to the next?

Health care providers, in any field, agree on the importance in the disclosure of your medical background. Your records from a previous doctor should be transferred so that the new physician can better treat you.

WCPO's Tony Mirones spoke with a nurse practitioner about the difficulty of dealing with a patient without knowing their background.

"It's a method, or manner, of investigation. There are a lot of questions to dig information out of -- or if you're dealing with a younger child, quite often they don't know what their diagnosis was. They may not know what medication they were on or the allergies they have," said Roxanne Gall, nurse practitioner. 

Neighborhood Health Care, a medical facility in Mt. Auburn, closed their doors at the end of 2013, forcing patients there to find new doctors. Families scrambled to do so without much notice, unaware of how to get access to their records.

Many patients found their way to Mt. Auburn Urgent Care, a new provider in the area. Patients reached out to the facility asking if they would be able to get their records from the now closed Neighborhood Health Care facility. Mt. Auburn Urgent Care said they reached out to Neighborhood Health Care for new patient records, but has yet to get a response. 

Getting a hold of those records may not be as easy as it sounds for a new medical facility. A patient or an authorized representative for that person must be the ones to file a request for their documents -- these people are covered under the provision of access.

A health care provider cannot deny an individual the right to their own records, with a few exceptions (read those exceptions here .)

After submission of request and identity verification, "covered entities" must respond to requests in a timely manner, according to the Privacy Rule. Covered entities are those that must follow HIPAA regulations on the security rule. Covered entities must have contracts in place ensuring that they are using your information properly.

A decision must then be communicated within 30 days of the request. The Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems set by HIPAA and used by physicians can assist in this process. Doctors will usually send your records to a new doctor at no charge, but some may choose to charge.

If you're facing a situation similar to what the patients at Neighborhood Health Care went through, you can file a complaint to HIPAA. A physician can't personally choose to deny you your records; that would be a civil rights violation. To file a complaint to HIPAA, it must be filed within 180 days of your complaint. Click here to learn how to submit a complaint. You can also file a complaint with your health insurer or through the Federal government .

Although getting records may seem like jumping through a hoops, people have begun to keep Personal Health Records (PHRs) to take to doctors in the meantime. PHRs  allows for individuals to manage their health information with records they have kept and memories of visits. The data is stored on computers and they can chose to share this information openly with their doctor or family members. PHRs are becoming increasingly popular and some are protected by HIPAA depending on who offers the PHR plans. Learn more about PHR plans here.

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