The HITECH Act and Washington State
The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, simply known as HITECH, is an extension of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which was the first federal legislation that addressed the protection and access of health information. HITECH, which was signed into law in 2009, allows patients to access their medical records in an affordable and easy manner.
HITECH applies to all healthcare providers, as long as they submit at least some transactions related to healthcare electronically, such as emailing a claim for payment to an insurance plan. In addition, HITECH also applies to all entities that either furnish, bill, or receive payment for healthcare in the normal course of their business, though the same electronic transaction requirement applies.
Under HITECH, a patient may request a copy of their medical records (referred to as “protected health information,” or PHI, within the Act) by simply sending a written request to the healthcare provider. No special form needs to be followed and there are no specific requirements that need to be met, except for the healthcare provider being able to reasonably verify the patient sending the request is the subject of the requested information. This can be achieved by providing a signature and a date of birth in the request. A healthcare provider has 30 days to respond to a request.
Importantly, HITECH controls the cost of obtaining PHI. Specifically, the healthcare provider must provide the patient’s PHI at cost. This means that a healthcare provider cannot charge the per page fees allowed under Washington State law (WAC 246-08-400). In addition, a patient can request that their PHI be produced in an electronic format, which is quite useful for voluminous records and it usually costs only a few dollars. For example, most healthcare providers will produce PHI on a CD for about $6.50.
HITECH also allows for representatives of the patient, such as their attorney, to submit requests on their behalf. Consequently, an attorney should use HITECH requests when possible to save their client unnecessary expense.
Overall, HITECH is a vital tool for patients to access their PHI. For more detailed information regarding one’s rights under HIPAA and HITECH, please visit https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/laws-regulations/index.html