HHS affirms patients’ right of timely access to medical records

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg in Florida, with a 480-bed hospital and 550 affiliated physicians, is the first health organization to feel the sting of a new federal enforcement policy.

For years, the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services has enforced the HIPAA privacy and security rules, among other duties. Earlier this year, OCR announced it would start to enforce the right of patients to access copies of their medical records promptly and without being overcharged.

Now, Bayfront has paid a fine of $85,000 to OCR and has adopted a corrective action that the regulator will oversee after Bayfront failed to provide a mother timely access to records about her unborn child.

Following a complaint from the mother, OCR investigated; Bayfront directly provided the mother the health records more than nine months after the initial request.

Bayfront Health-CROP.jpg
Bayfront Health St. Petersburg

HIPAA rules generally require the providing of medical records within 30 days of request and providers can charge only a reasonable cost-based fee.

Bayfront’s fine and a corrective action plan of one year should be an initial warning to other providers that the next sanction for failure to provide timely access to records could be significantly more substantial and intended to send a message across the industry. That has generally been the modus operandi to make sure everyone is paying attention.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg has issued a statement on the regulatory actions taken against the organization.

“Our hospital has entered into a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan with the Office for Civil Rights for delays in fulfilling a patient’s request for medical records. While we responded to the patient’s record requests, clerical errors unfortunately caused a significant delay in fulfilling the entire request for records. Delays for fulfilling requests for access to patient health information do not meet our service standards and we have sincerely apologized to the patient.

“All patients have the right to receive their medical records and we are committed to timely fulfillment of their requests,” the Bayfront Health statement continued.

“Working with our release of information vendor, staff have been re-educated on processes, including escalation procedures when requested documents cannot be located. Our hospital has also ordered more oversight by Health Information Management staff of records requests and processing to ensure patients receive accurate records in a timely manner.”

Bayfront’s resolution agreement and corrective action plan with the Office for Civil Rights is available here.

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