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May 7 2015   11:44AM GMT

Researchers: Stop charging patients for paper copies of records

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee

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Despite 94% of hospitals in the United States having already adopted a certified EHR system, many state regulations are still focused on paper records. That’s the word from Niam Yaraghi, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Joshua Bleiberg, a research analyst at the Brookings Institution, which is a private nonprofit organization that focuses on independent research and policy solutions. And despite the fact that it costs basically $0 to reproduce digital records, patients in certain states are forced to pay if they want paper copies of their medical data.

The researchers argue that state regulations should change so that medical providers are required to give patients their medical data for free.

Yaraghi and Bleiberg did the math to see what the maximum cost for copying 75 pages of records in different states would be. They found that states with some of the highest paper copy costs are Georgia ($101 for 75 pages of records), Pennsylvania ($95), Indiana ($93) and Mississippi ($90). They also found that the states that have the lowest costs for copies are Tennessee ($29), Wisconsin ($23) and California ($19).

When patients have access to and are provided their medical records, studies have found that they become more engaged with their treatment and tend to experience better care outcomes, Yaraghi and Bleiberg wrote. Furthermore, patients with access to their medical data can make up for the lack of interoperability among health IT systems by sharing it with various medical providers and help to avoid redundant medical testing. Although the HIPAA Privacy Rule  requires medical providers to give patients copies of their medical records, the fact that paper copies cost so much is a huge turn off for patients.

Yaraghi and Bleiberg conducted a survey and found that 68% of respondents are not willing to pay a single cent to have access to their medical data.

State regulations need to undergo a major revision, Yaraghi and Bleiberg wrote, adding that “the intention behind suggesting a copying fee in the privacy rule of 2000 was to ensure that medical providers are adequately reimbursed for the additional efforts that they have to make in order to copy medical records at the patients’ request. Although the EHRs are very expensive, one should note that the majority of medical providers used HITECH incentives to adopt such software.”

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