Consumer Advocate Slams AHA Position on Patient Access

The American Hospital Association has come under heavy criticism from an influential consumer advocate for its position on a proposed Stage 2 meaningful use provision to give patients electronic access to their health information within 36 hours of discharge.

In a blog posting, Christine Bechtel, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families and a member of the HIT Policy Committee that advises federal officials, writes that the AHA “has little interest in advancing meaningful use criteria that would result in tangible benefits to patients.”

The AHA in its comment letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services asserts that they agency does not have regulatory authority over patient access to health information. That authority, AHA says, lies with the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which has jurisdiction over HIPAA rules.

CMS’s decision to push patient access to information within 36 hours “is at best premature given that no final rule has been issued to implement HITECH’s specific mandate for a right of patients to obtain electronic copies of their protected health information when that information is part of an EHR,” the hospital association told CMS.

The AHA supports a 30-day time period for providing access, saying that is the time necessary to determine how to respond to a request, no matter the format of the information.

Bechtel responds that the AHA made its views on the issue known “with such vehemence that their views should be characterized as hostility.” It is “absurd,” she contends, to use HIPAA, a law designed to protect patients, in a way that would undermine patient interests.

Further, the information quickly being offered to patients under the proposed Stage 2 rule “is the very same information that can help keep patients from being readmitted unnecessarily,” Bechtel writes. “No patient in this day and age should have to wait a full month for access to their own health information, which is vital to their ability to get and stay well. And no hospital should want to do this--especially with payment penalties for unnecessary readmissions about to be put in place.”

An AHA representative was not immediately available for comment.

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