Continuing with our comparative analysis of Yale’s Assessment of US Hospital Compliance With Regulations for Patients’ Requests for Medical Records, today we’re going to look at the HIPAA requirement that all requests for patient data be fulfilled within 30 days. As my colleague Deven McGraw pointed out in her blog post about patient data rights under HIPAA, 30 days is already far too long to wait, unfairly burdening a number of patients who need faster access to their data. For a cancer patient in need of their health information to procure a treatment plan, second opinion, or access to a clinical trial, 30 days can be the difference between life and death, and yet many patients are made to wait longer.
The Yale study focused primarily on the processes for the release of information, rather than the actual release of the information itself. As much of their research was done via phone calls, the team gathered data about the various policies of hospital records departments but not necessarily the reality of those processes. Since there was no actual request for data being made, the statistics show how long it would take to process a request for patient records according to the hospital staff member on the phone. According to the study:
Among the telephone calls, 71 hospitals provided mean times of release for paper copies of records. A maximum time of release was provided by 10 hospitals, and 2 hospitals were unable to specify a mean or maximum time of release.
Of that hospitals that provided mean times of release…
17 (21%) reported mean times of less than 7 days
21 (25%) in 7 to 10 days
26 (31%) in 11 to 20 days
4 (5%) in 21 to 30 days
3 (4%) in more than 30 days
Here at Ciitizen, where we’re currently working on behalf of numerous patients to help them collect their health records, we can shed a bit of light on how long it actually takes to process some of these requests. Between what we’re told on the phone and when we actually get the information in hand, the time periods vary quite dramatically.
Of the 60 most recent patient requests we’ve submitted…
11 (18%) took 30 - 39 days to arrive
8 (13%) took 40 - 49 days to arrive
5 (8%) took 50 - 59 days to arrive
1 took 85 days to arrive
That means 25 out of 60 requests (42%) took 30 days or longer to receive.
I should also add that, in general, getting these records required more than a single phone call. As we’ve reported before, getting the data required numerous calls and escalations to a hospital’s privacy officer before access was finally granted, in spite of the institution’s policy or stipulated time of release.
Ultimately, we’ve found that the reality of getting the data in hand is even more time consuming and frustrating than the quoted time frames our friends at Yale have documented.