Failure to Respect Patient’s Right to Access Health Care Information Leads to HIPAA Settlement
Bayfront Health – St. Petersburg (Bayfront) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) entered into a $85,000 no-fault settlement agreement and one year corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This settlement is the first case in HHS-OCR’s Right of Access Initiative (Initiative). The Initiative was open for public comment between December 2018 and February 2019 and received over 1,000 comments.
Bayfront is a 480-bed hospital based in St. Petersburg, Florida. On August 14, 2018, one of Bayfront’s patients (Parent) complained to HHS-OCR alleging that the Parent requested her child’s prenatal health records from Bayfront in October 2017, and had yet to receive them. Bayfront initially responded that Bayfront was unable to locate the requested health records. Bayfront later received two separate requests from Parent’s legal counsel for the same health records in January and February 2018, respectively. Bayfront did not provide a complete response to these renewed requests until August 23, 2018. Bayfront provided a copy directly to Parent on February 7, 2019 – approximately six months after Bayfront provided Parent’s legal counsel with that information and approximately a year and a half after Parent’s original request to Bayfront. The settlement agreement notes that Bayfront finally responded to Parent’s request only because of HHS-OCR’s investigation into Parent’s complaint.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule contains several provisions that recognize the integral role that family members often play in a patient’s health care. For example, the Privacy Rule generally requires Covered Entities, such as Bayfront, to treat an individual’s personal representative, who may be a parent, as the individual, for purposes such as exercising the individual’s rights under the Privacy Rule, including the right to access the individual’s health information. HHS-OCR has issued an FAQ that explains why disclosures to a family member are permissible under HIPAA. Covered Entities must respond to an individual’s request for their health information within 30-days of the request.