I decided in June 2015 to go through the exercise of requesting an electronic copy of my medical records. They’re from an Epic-using, Most Wired-winning, EMRAM Stage 7 academic medical center at which my only encounter was an unplanned, uneventful one-night stay while traveling. I wanted to see how the records request process might work for the average patient.
I also tried using the hospital’s MyChart portal to look up my own records as a second experiment. That’s a different process managed by the hospital’s MyChart support team. I was not successful since my visit was not listed and the polite but baffled technician couldn’t figure out why. The technician did not offer to research the problem further.
The records request page on the hospital’s website offers two options: dropping by personally to the hospital’s health information management department (which they clearly prefer) or downloading, completing, and faxing a form. Scanning and emailing the signed form was not possible, they said – it has to be faxed. Requests for images must be made separately by calling a different telephone number.
The form is complicated since it was primarily designed for patients who want to give someone else access to their records, such as for a workers compensation claim. The hospital really should create separate forms to avoid awkward references to “the patient” when it’s the patient making the request. It also asked for “patient medical record number or other identifiers” which hospitals frustratingly and somewhat arrogantly expect patients to learn and remember.
I completed the paper form as best I could, but it was not easy to figure out what they were looking for. Then I had to scan the signed form and find an online fax service to send it to the HIM department’s release of information fax machine.
The paper form did not provide an option for how I wanted to receive the information, stating flatly that paper copies would be mailed and that an unstated per-page fee would be charged by its contracted release of information vendor (it’s scary to agree to pay the fee upfront without knowing how many pages are involved or what the per-page charge is). It didn’t ask how I preferred to be contacted (not that it mattered since they never contacted me), but it did ask for a telephone number and physical address, again oddly worded since the multi-purpose form isn’t intended for patients only, with fields such as, “Phone (if known)” as though the patient might not know their own telephone number.
I called the hospital’s HIM department since I hadn’t heard back from my request. They said they hadn’t taken any action because I hadn’t provided dates of service for my one and only encounter with the health system (since I couldn’t remember the date – it was more than a year before). They looked it up and said they would mail the records. I told them I wanted them in electronic form.
The HIM person said they don’t provide electronic information to patients, only to physicians. I said they were obligated to give me an electronic copy if I wanted it. She said she would get back with me after she talked to her supervisor.
I hadn’t heard back from HIM, so I called them again. The supervisor repeated that they are not obligated to give patients electronic copies of their records and would provide only mailed paper copies. I repeated that they are indeed obligated to provide electronic copies. I said I would file a Office for Civil Rights complaint if they refused. Which they did, again.
I filed the OCR complaint. It was an easy online form to complete and I received quick email confirmation that it had been received.
A letter-sized envelope arrived in the mail from the hospital. My name and address were scrawled nearly illegibly on the front with no indication of what was inside. I opened it up and there was my visit summary, contained on two pages front and back as printed off from the hospital’s Epic system. The hospital didn’t include a greeting or explanation or anything to indicate why they had sent the copies – it was just two Epic-generated pages that I finally figured out. I can’t imagine the average patient receiving the same document and making sense of it. At least they didn’t charge me for the two pages.
I received a letter from the Office for Civil Rights informing me that my complaint was being closed without formal investigation. Instead, OCR said it had decided to “resolve this matter informally through the provision of technical assistance to the hospital.”
I haven’t heard from the hospital. I still don’t have an electronic copy of my records. My visit still doesn’t display in MyChart.
I invite readers to try this same process with their hospital or physician practice and let me know how it goes.