From time to time, both lawyers and clients are confronted with the need to obtain a copy of a medical chart.
This request for medical information necessarily involves a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) request. The HIPAA provides a measure of security and privacy for your medical records, and it presents all kinds of fun and interesting issues for both lawyers and clients. I would like to take a moment to just hit some of the highlights that may surprise you. Keep in mind that this is a huge area of law and I am only touching on some of the issues that you may confront.
- HIPAA limits who can access medical records, including the patient’s own parents.
Most colleges will not reveal the medical records of their students who are over 18 years of age. This is in spite of the fact that mom and dad are more likely than not paying for the student’s tuition. Nevertheless, the rules say they are not entitled to the medical records even if they are medically necessary for the treatment of the patient. This issue can be resolved with certain waivers and forms, but it is often shocking to parents to know that they cannot get a copy of their own children’s medical chart once the child hits the age of 18.
- HIPAA does not provide for a private cause of action.
Other issues arise when there has been a violation of HIPAA. Take, for example, an individual who is arrested for driving under the influence. A reporter or other third party obtains a copy of the medical chart for the individual providing knowledge of his medical treatment and blood-alcohol level, which is then publicized. The individual usually cannot sue the medical institution for money damages in violation of HIPAA. You can require that a court order the institution to keep the medical chart confidential and not to disclose it to third parties, however, HIPAA is supposed to do this without the need for filing suit.
- When you get your medical chart, you don’t actually get all of your medical records.
Realize as both the attorney and client, while the medical records are yours and yours alone, HIPAA does not necessarily require medical institutions to provide you all of the records that are in your chart. For example, if you make a medical record request, the medical institution will provide you with copies of your medical history, medicines, and medication, but they will not provide you with actual copies of x-rays, MRI films or other ancillary tasks including pathology results and records unless you specifically ask for them in detail.
Keeping these limitations in mind will make it easier to traverse the HIPAA maze when requesting and reviewing medical records and charts.