The Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (“OCR”) announced the resolution of three more right of access cases, bringing the total to a whopping 41 since the start of its drive to increase compliance with this Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) requirement over two years ago. From small physician practices to nursing homes to health systems, OCR has spared no one in its quest to reduce patient complaints related to medical records request fulfillment. The three most recent actions all involved dental practices, with settlements ranging from $25,000 to $80,000. Each instance involved a failure to timely provide records (where the respective patient made multiple requests over a span of months to over a year), and one where the practice’s $170 copying fee exceeded HIPAA’s reasonable and cost-based standard.
While it is anyone’s guess as to when OCR may start tapping the breaks on this initiative, based upon the sheer number of settlements, it’s clear that these types of complaints are plentiful and the settlements low-hanging fruit. Providers who still have not examined their record release policies and procedures and have reason to believe patients are not timely receiving their records should heed the writing on the wall: OCR will “continue to vigorously enforce patients’ rights” to promptly receive copies of their medical records (within 30 days of the request under most circumstances) without being overcharged.