New HIPAA Guidance to Clarify Consumer Rights

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By Alex Ruoff

Dec. 3 — The federal government will publish four guidance documents outlining consumers' right to access their health information, Deven McGraw, the government's top health privacy lawyer, said Dec. 3.

McGraw said the guidance would be published in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on four common areas of concern:

• record fees;
• the right to a digital copy of health records;
• the right to have health records sent to a third party; and
• the scope of a designated record set. 

McGraw, deputy director for health information privacy at the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said her office most commonly receives complaints from consumers about being denied access to their health records by their health-care provider and charged high fees for those records.

She said she hopes the guidances will be published before the end of the year.

Earlier this year Department of Health and Human Services officials announced they would publish informal guidance on individuals' rights to access their health records.

McGraw's announcement offered new details on the issues the OCR will address in that guidance.

The move is part of the White House's Precision Medicine Initiative announced in July and is meant to promote individuals' right to obtain a copy of their health records.

Common Issues

The FAQs will address issues related to federal privacy laws commonly brought before the OCR, McGraw said.

For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requires health-care organizations to give patients access to their protected health information that includes medical and billing records. Often health-care organizations are unsure if they are required to give patients access to clinicians' notes or other internal clinical communications, McGraw said.

The FAQs will clarify that patients have a right to a digital copy of their health records and to have their health-care provider send a copy of their health records to a third party, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Patty Logan at