Doctors used to give patients a copy of their medical records for free. But that service is waning, as today’s large group practices shed the hassle and risk by outsourcing the record-handling.
For-profit companies in the new “release of information” or “disclosure-management” industry include HealthPort Technologies LLC in suburban Atlanta and Bactes Imaging Solutions LLC in San Diego.
They say it is costly to process record requests in compliance with patient privacy laws. In Florida, they get $1-a-page for hospital records, whether the copies are on paper or digital.
For doctors’ records, the price is likewise $1 a page in most cases. The only price breaks are for patients, who pay a quarter a page after 25 pages, and government agencies.
The Florida Board of Medicine has been debating whether to do away with the exceptions and have a $1-a-page maximum charge for everyone. A hearing is now scheduled for October in South Florida.
HealthPort Technologies’ General Counsel Jan McDavid says most people don’t understand why the industry wants the charge to be the same for copies in electronic and paper format; they think a download should be less expensive. But what’s costly isn’t the paper, she said, it’s the personnel.
“There are about 32 steps involved” in processing a document-copy request,” she said. “It takes a lot of training; it’s a very highly regulated environment.”
Most of those who request copies of records are insurance companies or lawyers of all kinds — not just medical malpractice and personal injury, both plaintiff and defense, but also disability determinations, workers’ compensation and more.
At HealthPort, only 5 percent of the requests for copies come from patients themselves, General Counsel Jan McDavid said.
But that’s a sticky issue. At least two class-action suits against HealthPort and Bactes are under way in Florida on behalf of patients from Hillsborough and Broward counties who didn’t get the patient price break because their records request was submitted by their attorneys. At least $1 million in overcharges is at stake, according to Scott Jeeves of St. Petersburg, one of the lawyers bringing the class-action cases.