On March 28, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of two additional cases as part of OCR’s HIPAA Right of Access Initiative.
The Right of Access Initiative was launched by OCR in 2019 “to support individuals’ right to timely access their health records at a reasonable cost under the HIPAA Privacy Rule” as explained by OCR. In the March 28 announcement, OCR indicated its continuing commitment to enforce compliance with the HIPAA Rules, including the “foundational” Right of Access provision. With the two most recent cases, there have now been 27 investigations and settlements under the Right of Access Initiative (see full chart below).
Nearly all of the investigations in the Right of Access Initiative involve a single individual unable to obtain a copy of some or all of their protected health information from a health care provider or to do so within the timeframe required or in accordance with fees permitted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule. In some cases, additional issues found during the investigation, such as failure to have conducted a HIPAA risk assessment or lack of HIPAA policies, are part of the settlement. In all cases, in addition to the monetary penalty, the settlement has included a Corrective Action Plan imposing various obligations, such as policy development, training, and mandatory reporting to OCR.
The Right of Access Initiative remains one of the most active areas of HIPAA enforcement. In its most recent Annual Report to Congress on HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rule Compliance, OCR noted that right of access was the third most common issue of complaints resolved. Moreover, the Right of Access Initiative coordinates with the ONC 2020-2025 Federal HIT Strategic Plan and the goal of “Providing patients and caregivers with more robust health information.” It is a core tenant of the Federal HIT Strategic Plan that access to health information will “better support person-centered care and patient empowerment.”