While the HIPAA law gives patients the right to request copies of their health records from providers and insurers, there's been no real push to enforce those rights. Many patients have frustrating experiences when they seek their records.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights concedes that much work remains to increase patient access, and in response, it's launching an ongoing program to issue guidance for patients and other stakeholders to improve compliance with the law.

Also See: Issues with Duplicate Patient Records Hound HIM Professionals

“Unfortunately, based on recent studies and our own enforcement experience, far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information, even from entities required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule,” the agency notes in an announcement. “This must change.”

The advocacy group GetMyHealthData Campaign called the new guidance an important step forward. “We are hopeful that the clarifications HHS issued will help both providers and patients better understand the law and the opportunities it presents. When all patients can get and use their health data electronically, they will be able to more fully engage in their health and care,” said Christine Bechtel, campaign coordinator and advisor to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

The initial guidance is available here.

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