HHS Releases Online Resources Focused on Patient Engagement and Patients’ Rights Under HIPAA | Healthcare Informatics Magazine | Health IT | Information Technology Skip to content Skip to navigation

HHS Releases Online Resources Focused on Patient Engagement and Patients’ Rights Under HIPAA

June 2, 2016
by Heather Landi
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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed a series of videos aimed at clarifying patients’ rights to see and get copies of their health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The videos, developed by HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), were announced this week as part of the ONC Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. ONC this week also unveiled a Patient Engagement Playbook as a tool for healthcare providers looking to leverage health IT, specifically electronic health record (EHR) patient portals, to engage their patients.

The consumer-oriented videos, available in both English and Spanish, were developed by ONC and OCR as an easy-to-understand educational tool to help consumers understand their right to see and get their health information and to have that information sent to others of their choosing (including family members, caregivers, or a mobile device application).

In an ONC's Health IT Buzz blog post about the videos, National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, M.D., and OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels wrote, “OCR’s guidance on HIPAA provides a wealth of valuable and detailed information about patients’ rights.  But it is important that this information be equally accessible to patients and other participants in the medical system.  To address this need, ONC and OCR have teamed up to develop a set of easy-to-understand educational tools in English and Spanish.”

“Today, we are releasing three videos that discuss these topics. The first video, “Individual’s Right under HIPAA to Access their Health Information,” addresses the basics of the HIPAA access right. Importantly, the video explains that access may only be denied in limited circumstances; it makes clear that the fact that a patient has not yet paid her medical bill is not one of them.”

The second video, titled “HIPAA Access Associated Fees and Timing,” provides consumers with answers to patients’ most commonly asked questions such as, “can I be charged a fee for a copy of my health information?” and, “how long may it take to get a copy of my health  information once I have requested it?” This video also explains when access should be free, such as through a patient portal.

The third video, titled “HIPAA Access and Third Parties,” focuses on the right of patients to request that their health information be sent to a third party, such as a family member or even a mobile application. “Having the right and capability to direct health information elsewhere is an important and empowering step toward achieving patient-centered care,” DeSalvo and Samuels wrote.

ONC and OCR leaders also wrote that providing individuals with easy access to their health information “empowers them to be more in control of decisions regarding their health and well-being.” 

“Individuals with access to their health information are better able to monitor chronic conditions, adhere to treatment plans, find and fix errors, and directly contribute their information to research,” DeSalvo and Samuels wrote.

The videos are available on the ONC site as well as on OCR’s website.

In a separate Health IT Buzz blog post, Thomas Mason, M.D., ONC’s chief medical officer, highlighted ONC’s new Patient Engagement Playbook for Physicians, which aims to give healthcare providers an online tool for leveraging health IT to engage patients and, in turn, empower them to better manage their health and care.

“Why a “playbook?” Playbooks aren’t just static instruction manuals — they’re constantly-evolving sets of strategies and approaches. Successful coaches update their playbooks regularly, and each iteration reflects new, innovative solutions to shifting circumstances,” Mason wrote.

The online playbook for patient engagement features best practices and solutions compiled from “innovative providers and health systems around the country,” Mason stated.

According to ONC, the first phase of the Playbook focuses on four key elements designed to help improve patient engagement:

  • Outlines best practices to enroll patients in provider patient portals
  • Offers tips on streamlining functionality of patient portals and indicates top features which should be adopted — including making appointments online, securing information, and sharing notes
  • Explains how and why to grant caregivers proxy access to patient portals
  • Discusses how and why to track patient generated health data in order to improve clinical decision-making and care delivery

“When clinicians engage patients through health IT, they realize a reduced burden on office staff, improved responsiveness to patients’ needs, lower utilization of health services, more engaged and informed patients, and generally more effective delivery of care,” Mason wrote in the blog post.

The Playbook is one part of a larger health IT playbook that will be launched later this year, according to ONC.

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