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Covered entities and business associates should expect an increased number of individuals asking about their rights to access their health information given several consumer-friendly tools recently released by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). After issuing a lengthy guidance document addressing an individual’s HIPAA rights to health information in January 2016, OCR has now released a series of easy-to-understand educational tools for consumers. Whereas the January guidance was directed at covered entities and business associates, these new tools are specifically designed for individuals to learn more about their rights under HIPAA.

This may lead to an uptick in the number of access requests. It may also result in an increased number of individuals filing complaints, as individuals better understand the processes that covered entities and business associates are required to follow. Therefore, it is especially important that covered entities and business associates understand HIPAA’s requirements for providing individuals with access to their health information and follow those requirements.

Specifically, OCR and ONC have created three short videos and a one-page HIPAA Right of Access Infographic to assist individuals in understanding their right to access and receive copies of their health information under HIPAA. The videos address the following topics:

The HIPAA Right of Access Infographic is a one-page fact sheet entitled, “Your Health Information, Your Rights.” The fact sheet provides a high-level summary of individuals’ rights with respect to their health information, including ways to protect health information and tips for sending health information to third parties. The fact sheet also provides a link to the more lengthy January guidance document.

While the HIPAA Privacy Rule has always provided individuals with the right to access and receive a copy of their health information from covered entities, OCR has found that individuals still “face obstacles” in accessing their health information. When OCR first released the January guidance document entitled, “Individuals’ Right under HIPAA to Access their Health Information 45 CFR § 164.524,” Jocelyn Samuels, Director of OCR, stated that OCR would “continue to develop additional guidance and other tools as necessary to ensure that individuals understand and can exercise their right to access their health information.” Click here to read the full statement. These training tools and more information about individuals’ rights under HIPAA are available on the HHS website.