Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced a Right of Access Enforcement Initiative, which would focus on ensuring that patients were getting timely access to their records without being overcharged. Prior to this announcement, enforcement actions against providers for denying a patient the proper right of access were rare. Since announcing the initiative, OCR has swiftly pursued claims resulting in two settlements within months of each other.
In the first case, Bayfront Health, a 480-bed hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, took more than nine months to provide a patient with requested fetal monitoring records related to her unborn child. The patient filed her complaint in August 2018 and OCR publicized in September 2019 that Bayfront Health agreed to pay $85,000 to settle the claim.
Three months later, OCR announced another $85,000 settlement with another Florida provider. Korunda Medical, a comprehensive primary care and interventional pain management provider, failed to comply with a patient’s request to have medical records sent in a specific electronic format to a third party. Further, when it finally complied, Korunda overcharged the patient for the copies. Initially, less than two weeks after the initial March 8, 2019 complaint, OCR provided technical assistance to Korunda. Korunda, however, ignored the technical assistance triggering a second complaint to OCR. OCR launched an investigation on May 8, 2019 and announced the settlement on December 12, 2019.
Without question, OCR is taking seriously all right of access complaints and it is acting quickly on those with potential merit. Providers must ensure that they take all communications from OCR, including technical assistance letters, very seriously and must ensure that they are timely and properly responding to patient requests for access to records.