Doctors' Confusion over HIPAA

Los Angeles Times article by Lisa Zamosky comments on the confusion in doctors' offices regarding Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The article points out that obtaining medical records is often harder for patients than the law allows:

Under HIPAA, consumers have the right to access records documenting their health conditions, diagnoses and treatments.

HIPAA also explains when healthcare providers can share protected health information with other people.

... [U]nder HIPAA, sending health information by fax is not prohibited. In addition, the law states that the provider must give patients the information they ask for in the format they request.

Trouble accessing medical records from doctors is a common complaint received by the Medical Board of California, which licenses and disciplines medical doctors.

Candis Cohen, a spokeswoman for the board, says physicians and their office staffs frequently confuse details of the HIPAA privacy law and, even with the best intentions of protecting patients' privacy rights and complying with the law, deny consumers access to their medical records.

The traditional medical culture doesn't help, policy and healthcare experts say, pointing out that, historically, doctors haven't valued patients' access to their own records.

"Some providers still have this paternalistic attitude that patients don't have the right to their own health information," says Joy Pritts, associate professor and director of the Center on Medical Records Rights and Privacy at Georgetown University.

A full listing of HIPAA regulations and consumers' rights under the law can be found on the Health and Human Services website,