2012-09-07 / Columnists

Your Life And Privacy

Your Medical Records, Your Rights
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US

Why would you want your medical records? Maybe you want to see your laboratory test results, or give your medical history to a family member.

You have a legal right of access to your medical records. The Privacy Rule contained in HIPAA, the vast federal healthcare statue enacted in 1996 and amended in 2009, and New York State’s Public Health law, guarantee this consumer right.

Unlike Seinfeld’s Elaine, who inspired Kramer to pose as the esteemed Dr. Van Nostrum to steal her records from her dermatologist, if you want to see your medical records, you just need to follow your provider’s internal procedures. These can differ among providers, as long as they don’t violate HIPAA or state law.

In New York, your provider generally must let you inspect your medical record within ten days of receiving your written request, and give you a copy of your record within 30 days. HIPAA permits you to get a summary or explanation of your record instead, if both you and your provider agree in advance.

You may have to pay for the privilege. HIPAA and New York law allows your provider to charge a reasonable, costbased fee for supplies, staff time and mailing costs. However, if you can’t afford to pay, your provider cannot deny your request.

Your right to access is not absolute. You may not be entitled to psychotherapy notes, material compiled for lawsuits, or information that could reasonably endanger your life, physical safety or that of another person.

If your request is denied, you generally must receive a written denial with instructions on how to appeal. If your provider says it does not have your records, you can request a report of who’s accessed your records, going back six years.

If you find mistakes in your records, you have the right to make corrections. Make your request in writing; you should get an answer in 60 days. If your request is denied, you can note your disagreement in your file.

If you believe your provider has violated your right of access or correction, you can file a complaint under HIPAA with the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Health and Human Services. You can also file a complaint with the specific state agency that regulates your provider. While HIPAA does not provide consumers with a private right of action, a New York consumer can file suit in New York State Court.

Providers must follow state law and HIPAA.

Location is everything: if your state’s law is tougher than HIPAA, your provider must follow it.

If your doctor’s office is old-school, meaning that neither the doctor nor anybody on her behalf (like a billing service) retains or transmits health information electronically, your doctor may not be covered by HIPAA. However, even these providers must follow state laws regulating access.

As a patient, you are a consumer of healthcare entitled by law to certain privacy rights. If you feel these rights are being trampled, consider shopping around for another provider with practices more to your liking. Your patient privacy rights are important.

For more information, visit www.hhs. gov/ocr/privacy/and www.health.ny.gov/ publications/1443.pdf.

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