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Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights Issues Memo to Facilitate Patients’ Access to Their Own Medical Records

Although it has always been required by law, many patients are unaware that health care facilities are required to provide them with access to their own medical records. The director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has recognized this problem and responded by releasing a right to access memorandum. This memorandum is a comprehensive one-page document that you can take to your doctor, hospital, or skilled nursing facility to retrieve your medical records.

Leon Rodriguez, director of the Office of Civil Rights, encourages patients to become more involved with their health care. His concern before issuing the memo was that too often, health care facilities used the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to prevent patients from having access to their own medical records. Some facilities act under false pretenses of protecting their patients’ privacy, while actually using HIPAA to their advantage to conceal and hold hostage their patients’ medical records.

You may wonder what incentives health care facilities have for concealing their patients’ medical records. Unfortunately, many California skilled nursing facilities today are guilty of nursing home neglect. When patients and their loved ones attempt to escape these abuses by taking legal action, nursing homes and their lawyers often use HIPAA to protect themselves by refusing to provide the patient with his or her medical records. Since the basis of a nursing home neglect case lies in the patients’ medical files, the inability of a patient to access his or her records can significantly hinder any lawsuit brought against the facility. For example, in certain class actions, attorneys will fight for years and are forced to take an excessive amount of steps and bring unnecessary motions just to send letters to other residents of the nursing home who may be potential class members.

In other instances, nursing homes have been found guilty of manipulating patient records or carelessly documenting certain conditions, while neglecting to document other important information. Inaccurate documentation can lead to improper assessments, withholding of treatments, and polypharmacy, all of which can lead to death. Because a nursing home staff may not be properly documenting your health condition, it is important that you use your right to access to obtain your own records and review them yourself.

Withholding of this information is especially egregious because patients have a legal right to access their own records. We hope that this article has been informative and will allow you to play a more interactive role in the care that you receive from any skilled nursing facility.

If your nursing home is withholding your medical information, or if you have reviewed your file and feel that you are receiving insufficient care, contact us today to see how we can protect your rights. We proudly serve the greater Los Angeles area, including Cudahy, Bradbury, and Hermosa Beach.