For patients in the modern digital healthcare world, medical record access remains an important point of contact with their physicians and specialists.
It wasn't so long ago -- 15 years back -- when the idea of looking at complete medical records online generally wasn't possible. Now that the industry has come through the other side of the EHR implementation heyday, medical record access in many ways is the calling card of an improved patient experience.
Providers can thank e-commerce, hotels and banking for leading the way on how digital technology can boost consumer -- or more specifically in this case, patient -- engagement.
"I do think in this day and age patients are very accustomed to easy access, low barriers to accessing whatever services they need and to getting the information they need," said Natalie Pageler, M.D. "And that is definitely the way that I hope healthcare will go."
Pageler is chief medical information officer at Stanford Children's Health in Palo Alto, Calif., and clinical associate professor of pediatrics critical care and biomedical informatics research at Stanford University.
Don't let HIPAA prevent access
Pageler urged providers not to be overzealous with HIPAA requirements, which could inadvertently discourage patients from seeking out their health information.
Generally, HIPAA's Privacy Rule gives patients "a legal, enforceable right to see and receive copies upon request of the information in their medical and other health records maintained by their healthcare providers and health plans," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Specifically, patients can request to view or obtain medical and billing records maintained by a provider; payments and claims overseen by a health insurance company; and other records used to make decisions about a person's care.
Pageler believes that at times, providers and insurers take stances that are too conservative in giving patients access to their records.
"Sometimes under the guise of HIPAA, accessing information becomes more complicated than it should be, whether or not that's the way, legally, it [needs to] be," she said.
Consider medical record access from consumer viewpoint
Instead, healthcare organizations should be prepared to view health information access as a service that improves a patient's likelihood to remain a customer.
"I do envision a world where you have some of the conveniences that we're seeing in the rest of our consumer world," Pageler said. "You have a symptom, you quickly and easily figure out what type of physician you should see. You're able to make an appointment online for the right physician in a short amount of time. You get in. You get the information you need."
In many ways, the future of medical record access for patients will reflect how current consumers perform banking transactions online.