By Julie Pursley Dooling, MSHI, RHIA, CHDA, FAHIMA, director of HIM practice excellence; AHIMA.
Release of patient information during COVID-19
What insiders have long known has become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic: health data is a vital element of health care, including efforts to curb the pandemic. Of course, that data is important to patients, providers, and healthcare staff. And even during COVID-19, if a patient wants to access their data, release of information services (ROI) teams must comply with a strict set of processes set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH). These regulations ensure that patients retain safe and secure control of their personal health information and record requests are timely, accurate, and complete.
So, what should providers and patients expect during this time? For years, patients have been able to walk into a provider’s office or a health records office and request a copy of their records. During a stay at home order, however, that’s not such a good idea.
The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) recommends that organizations temporarily suspend walk-in access for medical records inquiries during COVID-19. Organizations should work closely with their ROI vendor (if they have one) to ensure continuity, while also displaying signage on doors and windows to redirect patients and families to alternative resources. In addition, it would be prudent to post process changes to the organization’s website and through automated messaging systems, while alerting the patient access staff.
It’s important for organizations to provide patients and their families with alternate record request options during COVID-19. All requests via phone should be authorized by health information staff who witness and document it in the patient’s record. And voicemails should be directed to a patient portal so they can be returned.
And just how can a health professional be assured they’re talking to a patient or one of their relatives? They should ask the caller to verify their patient demographic data such as a date of birth, home address or the last four digits of a social security number (if applicable). Other examples of data may include cell phone numbers, nicknames or another reliable data source that is consistently collected.