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Federal officials this month announced sweeping plans to overhaul medical records privacy regulations, proposing language to codify a streamlined path for attorneys to receive their clients’ crucial healthcare documents.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published the proposals December 10, which affect a broad array of patient privacy rules under HIPAA and related legislation.
Key to those proposals is language shortening deadlines for a healthcare provider to deliver a patient’s electronic medical records, while requiring providers deliver such records fee-free to patients who have requested them through an electronic healthcare application.
Under the new language, healthcare providers will have 15 days to respond to a patient’s electronic records request, half the 30-day time limit under current rules.
And importantly, providers will be required to deliver those documents free of charge.
The proposed language is a major win for both patients and the lawyers who represent them, said an attorney for one of the nation’s leading patient-based records services.
“This is monumental,” Melanie Carpenter, Special Counsel for ChartSquad, told CVN. “People are literally dying waiting for their medical records.”
Carpenter said the HHS proposals aim to close loopholes highlighted in a U.S. district court decision earlier this year, in Ciox Health LLC v. Azar, et al. “I think the new language is a really good decision on the agency’s part,” Carpenter said. “They are using the judge’s words in the Ciox case to format, precisely, the rules and definitions that they need to format here and take all of the necessary steps to perfect their ability to regulate this industry.”
Key to the New Records Language: A Patient-Centered Healthcare Application
Key to the new HHS rule is the requirement that any patient who requests their electronic medical records through an electronic healthcare application receive the records free of charge. Clients would then have the right under the proposed rules to direct their records to anyone they wanted, including their attorneys.
That streamlined process means attorneys receive medical records more quickly and without the high fees charged by document centers.
Importantly, however, Carpenter said the proposal requires that the request come from the patient. “There’s nothing in the language that allows a law firm to tap into a hospital system to access those records, so it is pretty specific regarding what type of program or app you’re using,” Carpenter said. “The language applies to a portal or an app like ChartSquad, for example, where it would not apply to a law firm sending out a request through their case management software.”
ChartSquad: The Patient-Based, Healthcare Application Pioneer
As the leader in patient-driven medical records services for more than eight years, ChartSquad’s healthcare app falls squarely within the new HHS language. Attorneys sign up with ChartSquad for free and refer their clients to the company’s easy-to-use online portal. Clients then request their medical records through the company’s easy-to-use app and elect to share their records with whomever they choose, including their attorneys. ChartSquad does the rest, updating clients as records are delivered.
“If you know how to write, send, and forward an email, then you can use ChartSquad,” Carpenter told CVN.
The system is flexible enough to work with any size firm, from solo practitioners to the largest law practices in the industry. And ChartSquad’s online portal allows account holders to create user groups and segregate permissions within their practice.
It’s a system that has been proven to slash firm costs even before the new HHS proposals.
And now with the provisions proposed by HHS, record requests through ChartSquad can potentially save firms even more time and money, allowing attorneys to help their clients more efficiently and close cases faster.
Carpenter told CVN she believes ChartSquad is the only business in the industry that provides its array of services. “ChartSquad offers a package of services that no other business offers,” Carpenter said. “Others don’t take the same approach.”
While Carpenter said she expects the proposed rules to go into effect officially sometime in the first half of next year, she noted that the HHS announcement has already affected the industry. “I’m already seeing some responses from providers who used to fight on high fees; they’re lowering their fees already in anticipation of this going into effect,” she said.
Carpenter added she believes the rule proposals are a major step forward in assisting patients, while also codifying a more efficient process for attorneys to get the medical records vital to their clients’ cases. “The goal of these rules is to make things easier on the patient,” Carpenter said. “We really want to see that goal met.”