The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) recently released a one-page message from OCR Director Leon Rodriguez encouraging patients to exercise the right to access their medical records. Generally, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) grants patients the right to request and receive a copy of their medical records, and to request amendments to correct any inaccuracies.  OCR is the office within HHS that enforces these HIPAA privacy rights.

The OCR message suggests that, while medical records may allow patients “to more effectively manage their health and wellness,” many patients are unaware that they have a right to access these records.  Rodriguez explains that patients have a right to request a copy of their medical records from their health plan and most health care providers–including doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and nursing homes.  Patients should “review carefully the Notice of Privacy Practices” that they receive from health care providers and health plans because these Notices explain how patients can exercise their right to access.  

Rodriguez describes how patients may benefit from reviewing their medical records and encourages them to take advantage of their right to access.  He also provides links to additional resources, including a pamphlet on patient privacy rights, a YouTube video on the right to access and correct health information, and instructions on how to file a complaint with OCR if patients believe that their privacy rights have been violated.

Over the effective period of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, relatively few individuals have exercised their right to access medical records.  It remains to be seen whether the OCR message will materially increase both interest in accessing records and the related administrative burden on covered entities.