New Rules Will Ease Patients' Access to Electronic Medical Records

Published: April 09, 2019

Big DataElectronic Health RecordHealth CareHealth Information TechnologyHealth ITHealth ServicesInformation TechnologyPolicy and LegislationSENATE (CONGRESS)Social Services

Patients may soon be able to quickly and easily access their electronic health records thanks to new regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Patients may soon be able to quickly and easily access their electronic health records (EHR). Last month, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Senate health committee, backed new federal regulations to remove barriers patients can face in obtaining copies of their records.

The new rules, proposed in February by the Department of Health and Human Services, address the issue of information blocking, in which tech companies or health systems limit the sharing or transfer of information from medical files. If the regulations are adopted, manufacturers would be required to create software that can readily export a patient’s entire medical record. Health care systems would also be obliged to provide these records electronically at no cost to the patient.

“These proposed rules remove barriers and should make it easier for patients to more quickly access, use and understand their personal medical information,” Alexander said in a March 26 Senate hearing to discuss the HHS proposal.

According to HHS, the new rules will allow more than 125 million patients to easily obtain their medical records in an electronic format. For Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the committee, this accessibility will help avoid the potential dangers of EHRs that cannot exchange information or be shared. Over the past few years, thousands of reports of deaths, injuries, and near misses linked to digital systems have piled up in databases. Additionally, many patients have reported difficulties obtaining copies of their complete electronic files.

The hearing also included several healthcare experts who oppose the new regulations. They warned of potential consequences like an increased burden on providers and risks to patient data privacy. However, some experts maintained that the proposed rules do not go far enough in disclosing patient information. While they would require health systems to share the majority of data from a patient’s electronic file, they would exclude the audit trails from that file. These audit trails display every time a record is accessed and edited, and by whom and when, and are considered crucial for patients to understand the history of their care.

Despite these criticisms, Alexander reaffirmed the importance of the proposed regulations: “This will be a huge relief to any of us who have spent hours tracking down paper copies of our records and carting them back and forth to different doctors’ offices. The rules will reduce the administrative burden on doctors so they can spend more time with patients.”

Source: Kaiser Health News