What's next for patient medical record accessibility?

Free medical record access and creating unique patient identifiers are some of the proposed ideas one representative is trying to pass in order to give patients easier access to their medical records, The Washington Post reported Dec. 19. 

A new rule went into place in October that says health providers must give patients digital access to their medical records without hefty charges or long delays. 

The mandate, part of the 21st Century Cures Act, applies to all electronically protected health information, including things like fingerprints or photos. 

But patient advocates say this mandate isn't enough and still doesn't provide easy enough access to records. 

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., is trying to solve some of these issues with two proposals.

The first, dubbed the Medical Records Access Fairness Act, would address cost issues by requiring providers to give patients medical records for free for at least once a year.  

The second would be to create unique patient identifiers. These identifiers are the equivalent of a Social Security number and would allow patients' health information to be stored exclusively under one number paired with the individual. 

Unique patient identifiers were banned in 1998, but many patient advocates say bringing them back would allow health data to be shared more seamlessly and reduce medical errors. 

"Many Americans die yearly because you get incorrect or fragmented electronic health records," Mr. Foster said. "Some people have very complicated health conditions, and this would allow individuals to authenticate themselves as a single, identifiable person and then pull in all the records from whatever providers are storing in their separate systems."

According to a study from 2018, only 53 percent of hospitals allowed access to the patient's entire medical records. 

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