We Know There's A Problem / by David Driscoll

On October 5th, a group of researchers at Yale University, under the supervision of the renowned Dr. Harlan Krumholz, released a somewhat damning article titled Assessment of US Hospital Compliance With Regulations for Patients’ Requests for Medical Records. However, at Ciitizen, we simply call it: “the Yale report.” The study begins with a single question:

“Are US hospitals compliant with federal and state regulations in their medical records requests processes?”

The rest of the report is a lengthy analysis revealing the answer to that query, one we’ve already known for quite some time in our experience helping patients access their health data:

There are “inconsistencies in the information provided by medical records authorization forms and by medical departments in select US hospitals, as well as potentially unaffordable costs and processing times not compliant with federal regulations.”

In short, you cannot depend on a hospital to give you access to your rightful health data whatsoever, let alone in the stipulated time frame. Of course, if you’ve been reading this blog over the last few months, you already knew that. We’ve been sharing horror stories from patients, doctors, health advocates, and other professional voices within the industry since September, hoping to shed some light on the burden our health system unfairly puts onto patients. What the Yale report has now given us is academic proof of that conjecture. Despite the patient’s right of access under HIPAA, the regulations that require hospitals to comply, it’s still not easy for patients to request their health data. Let’s look at some of the numbers.

“Among the 83 top-ranked US hospitals representing 29 states, there was discordance between information provided on authorization forms and that obtained from the simulated patient telephone calls in terms of requestable information, formats of release, and costs,” the article states. According to the statistics only 11% of the hospital forms offered patients the option to select categories of desired information, and only 53% provided patients with the option of acquiring their entire record.

How can hospitals expect to provide patients with their requested health data when there’s no option to specify the data they’re looking to request? Interestingly enough, when contacted by phone, 100% of the “reachable” hospitals said they could provide the complete record. It wasn’t that they couldn’t, you just had to call them directly. Isn’t that why we say “operator” or “representative” immediately when dealing with automated customer service? Because we know that getting a live customer service rep is often the only way to get anything done. But that’s if you can get access to someone directly. Three hospitals in the study were deemed unreachable, and two offered no customer service option whatsoever

There’s a lot to chew on in the Yale study. Too much for one blog post. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to delve deeper into some of the findings and compare the results with some of our experiences here at Ciitizen. Stay tuned.

-David Driscoll