Managing electronic health records, or EHRs, in a digital ecosystem takes some level of caution, given the high value of the personal information. Healthcare organizations have struggled when it comes to providing patients with their EHRs in a compliant manner. Many of these issues stem from the patients’ lack of knowledge about how to properly access these records.

As per HIPAA privacy rules, organizations are required to provide EHRs to patients upon request. In these instances, they are allowed to have them sent to a person or entity of their choosing after paying a reasonable fee.

The “reasonable” part of this requirement has been called into contention, with a patient advocacy organization reporting some patients paying hundreds of dollars for their medical records. In two instances, patients were charged a subscription fee by the organization to access medical records.

After the release of these findings, medical organizations defended the costs associated with EHR distribution. Retrieving medical records can be a surprisingly extensive process, with information pulled from multiple EHR systems, resulting in a document that can be hundreds of pages long and filled with minutiae. Additionally, much of this often needs to be trimmed to ensure that the information is only relevant to the patient the records are being distributed to.

Add in security concerns for the transfer of data, especially when requesting it from a third party, and it’s easy to see why it has proven difficult for many healthcare organizations. In several states, fees for third party requests are generally higher than those charged to patients. This is because fees for third party requests at the behest of a patient are not covered under HIPAA regulation.

Laws differ from state to state, making it important for organizations to understand how their laws determine charges for EHRs. For instance, Kentucky entitles individuals to a single free copy of their medical records.

Additional difficulty in handling EHRs is a result of inadequate patient education regarding ways to access records. Educating them on the subject is less an IT concern and more a question of how patient engagement can be leveraged to promote HIPAA compliance. New forms for both healthcare organizations and patients released by AHIMA have aimed to improve understanding of these processes.

Even just making patients aware that they have the right to access their health information is an important step toward compliance. The form was made with the intention of it being flexible across organizations, allowing them to adapt it for their needs and patients.

As more and more healthcare providers update their EHR systems in the coming years, expect to see improvements in the ways that information is both delivered and made apparent to patients. Tools that improve patient access and are HIPAA-compliant are sure to be in demand as organizations work to do away with their antiquated and unwieldy paper records.