How to Access Your Electronic Health Records Under the New Federal Rules

The central theses

  • Under the new federal regulations of the 21st Century Cures Act, healthcare organizations must provide patients with access to their healthcare records in an electronic format.
  • Experts say this will benefit patients as it provides them with information that can help them make informed decisions about their treatment.
  • Provider portals are the primary way to request health records, but there are other ways to gain access, including through third-party apps and organizations, or even email.

Medical providers and healthcare organizations are now required to provide patients with electronic access to their medical records under new federal regulations that went into effect on October 6th.

The rules, passed as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, were designed to improve access and sharing of electronic health information without delay and allow patients to choose with whom to share their data.

Before the new rules, patients might not have been able to see changes or updates to their records, including notes from nurses and doctors about surgeries, information about their medication history, pictures from screenings, or even results for certain procedures.

The new guidelines will benefit patients and providers who “may need to get information from across the country from another hospital system,” according to Elise Anthony, JD, executive director of policy in the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). .

“We’re really excited about the advances that have been and have been made in terms of data sharing and how it’s helping patients,” Anthony told Verywell.

How do patients benefit from better data access?

Since the passage of the HIPAA privacy rule in 1966, patients have had the right to request a copy of their medical records, either paper or electronic.

But the purpose of the new rules is to create a better system for sharing information between patients and their providers, according to Ben Teicher, associate director of media relations at the American Hospital Association.

“For many patients with chronic conditions or other reasons for frequent visits to different providers, it’s difficult to keep everyone up to date with the latest changes in their health, changes in medications, or other developments,” Teicher said in an email Very well.

But increased access to digital health records could potentially create confusion or stress for patients, especially with test results that lack context.

“Test results can come back at any time, including after hours and weekends,” said Karen Bogard, RHIA, MHA, senior manager, data and recording integrity, senior manager at Mass General Brigham.

However, experts generally agree that accessibility and standardization of medical records are necessary for patients to be able to understand information about their own health.

“For patients with long and complex medical histories, it can be helpful to have access to notes from their care team so they can better understand their care and make informed decisions,” Bogard said.

How can you get your health records digitally?

According to Kathryn Marchesini, JD, chief privacy officer at the ONC, in most cases, patients can obtain their health records from their providers.

She said some providers will have an online portal showing lab results, medication summaries and vaccination records. Patients can request their records through these online provider portals.

Patients may also be required to fill out a form, often referred to as a health or medical record release form, to obtain health records. In addition, other providers may require that patients submit a letter by email, mail, or fax requesting their records.

“A healthcare provider could require an individual to request access in writing, and that could be done electronically,” Marchesini told Verywell. It is important to note that a provider cannot enforce unreasonable barriers that deny or delay access to patient records.

Anthony added that some patients may request their records through a third-party app or organization. In some cases, the records may be sent via email or other means if both patient and provider consent to this method.

“If some patients see many different providers and want to see their information in one place and an app can support that, they may prefer that option,” Anthony said.

However, Marchesini warned that some third-party organizations are not HIPAA-covered entities, which means they may not have strict privacy and security standards.

It may take time for providers to comply with the new regulations and create standardized health data, but the new regulation is the first step in giving patients more control over their own data.

“Having the ability of patients and providers to have that conversation and transmit that information, even if it’s not standardized, is important,” Anthony said. “We want to support patients’ ability to get information in different ways, sometimes it’s a portal, sometimes a third-party app, sometimes another way.”

What that means for you

Health plans and providers, including clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices, are required to provide patients with access to their health records in a digital format under the federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. Patients can obtain their records in a number of ways, mainly through a provider portal.

Verywell Health uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. Department of Health and Human Services. Your Rights Under HIPAA.

By Alyssa Hui

Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science writer. She received the 2020 Jack Shelley Award from the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association.

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