David Rodeck

Are Your Employees Struggling to Access Their Medical Records? Help Them Know Their Rights

When the government passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), it became federal law that patients should have access to their medical records. But even under this law, it still can be frustratingly complicated to access this information. If your employees have encountered this problem, their health could be at risk. Here’s how you can help them find their employee medical records.

The Importance of Checking Medical Records

Employee medical records contain a vast amount of important information, such as doctor notes, past treatment history, prescriptions and lab results. The ability to see that information encourages employees to be more engaged with their medical treatment, since the data gives them better insight into what they need to do to manage their health. For example, an employee might not realize they are past due for a booster on their tetanus vaccine until they check the dates on their file.

There could also be mistakes on an employee’s medical records — but they won’t be able to catch the error if they can’t double-check their files. And if an employee changes doctors, they need to be able to easily provide the most up-to-date information on the past treatment. All of these functions are vital, and that’s why HIPAA gives people the right to access this data on request.

Why Employee Medical Records Can Be Hard to Access

Even though employees should be able to access their medical history, in reality that’s often far from the case. A 2018 medical records study from Yale University tested how easily a researcher could track down records from 83 hospitals. The researchers ran into numerous problems.

To start, hospitals and providers have so much information that they sometimes struggle to find an employee’s complete record — especially if they are looking for older records on paper files. In the study, only 53% of hospitals said they could provide complete medical records. The researchers also found that hospitals could be slow to process requests, and that many charged a fee higher than what’s allowed under HIPAA to release the documents, in one case as high as $541.50 for a 200-page document.

Supporting Your Employees

To help your employees overcome the obstacles to viewing their records, make sure that they understand their HIPAA rights. Employees have the right to receive and review their medical and billing records from health care providers, including information held by pharmacies and laboratories.

Remind employees, too, that they may need to be persistent in tracking down their records. Hospitals and medical providers process large numbers of requests, so it may take multiple calls to get the information. Even if an employee has an unpaid bill for the hospital or medical provider, they shouldn’t be blocked from getting their records. Legally, though, medical providers must provide the records within 30 days of a request unless they reply with a specific reason for the delay.

As the Yale study showed, hospitals do not always follow recognized standards for releasing medical records, and they may charge high fees. The federal government recommends a fee of $6.50 to release electronic records, so encourage employees to use this recommendation to negotiate for a lower fee.

If employees still don’t feel confident requesting their records, recommend that they review this step-by-step guide to requesting records from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Can an Employer Request Medical Records From an Employee?

In your effort to help employees access their medical records, be careful that your business doesn’t accidentally intrude on their privacy. Employers are not allowed to request employee medical records from a provider unless the employee specifically gives permission. They might offer their records to justify taking FMLA leave or to request a special workplace accommodation for a health issue. To play it safe, your organization could stick to just offering employees the information on their rights and leave them to track down their records on their own. That way, you’ll avoid looking like you are trying to see their private data.

Despite improvements in digital records, accessing medical information is still a headache for far too many people. Help your employees take control of their health by making it just a little easier.

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