The American Medical Association (AMA) has created a new online resource to educate physicians and their practices through the requirements and intricacies of providing patients access to their digital health information. While federal regulation prohibits medical providers and EHR vendors from standing in the way of patients receiving their own health information, there has been a multitude of misunderstandings and challenges when it comes to complying with all of the legal requirements of HIPAA.
Who is the playbook for?
Digital health technology creates an unprecedented opportunity to improve patient outcomes and quality of life. In 2018, the AMA released its first playbook offering guidance to medical practices on the most efficient path for implementing and adopting digital health solutions. While responsibilities vary widely across practices, this playbook is meant for medical professionals who have a role in responding to and fulfilling requests to share patient health records.
The playbook is arranged in a way that it can serve multiple needs for readers: an educational source for new employee training, a reference manual for checking rules in uncertain situations, and/or an operations handbook for more efficiently integrating these record-sharing requirements into the day-to-day performance of the workplace.
Physicians have to comply with a multitude of laws governing patient access to health information, and these laws vary significantly. Broken down into four-parts, the playbook aims to dispel the myths and misconceptions from a host of complex federal and state laws surrounding patient electronic access to medical information.
The playbook has been designed as a way to definitively offer reliable information to help medical practices better understand the proper laws and how they manage fundamental topics for patient record sharing. Topics covered include:
- Amounts and types of Information
- Forms and formats for sharing records
- Patient requests and Involvement of third parties
- Timing for record request fulfillment
- Denial of record request access
- Permissible charges
- Confidentiality of substance use disorder records
As technology plays an increasingly important role in collecting and exchanging health data, the AMA believes that providing patients with improved information access and better information privacy are not mutually exclusive goals. – Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H., AMA Board Chair
Understanding the Legal Requirements
To help medical practices integrate legal compliance with patient care operations, the playbook offers a set of steps to make the fulfillment of patient record requests clearer and more efficient, according to the AMA press release. The steps are designed to help medical practices understand the capabilities of their electronic health record (EHR) systems, keep key points in mind, and promote greater use of EHRs among patients.
An example of understanding the legal requirements used in the AMA playbook covers requests from third parties and is as follows:
A life insurance company seeks a copy of an individual’s medical records for the purpose of approving a life insurance application.
This is considered a third party request and not subject to the HIPAA right of access, which means a HIPAA-compliant authorization form is required to release the information. However, even if a third party requests medical records and has a HIPAA-compliant authorization signed by the patient, HIPAA gives the medical provider discretion as to whether or not to disclose the requested information to the third party.
But some state laws require the provider to give the requested information. In that case, the provider must comply with both the state law (by providing the access) and HIPAA (making sure that the authorization form complies with all of HIPAA’s requirements).
Patients deserve both, and the new playbook is an important example of the AMA’s commitment to ensuring patients can easily access their personal health information that has been entrusted to physicians. – Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H., AMA Board Chair
The Patient Records Electronic Access Playbook adds to a growing list of AMA resources designed to help physicians navigate and succeed in a continually evolving health care environment. Patients have a right to access their medical records and cannot be denied simply because the practice believes the access is not in the patient’s best interest. A timely response to a patient’s request for their medical record is also warranted. Ultimately, healthcare providers should encourage patients to take more commanding interest in their health care and receive a copy of their health records and inspect those records for errors. In the end, digital health technology creates an unparalleled opportunity for better patient outcomes and quality of life.
About the American Medical Association
The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care. The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.