A Definitive Guide to HIPAA Medical Records Release Laws

Overview: Medical Records Release Laws

HIPAA record retention compliance is crucial for both medical practitioners and storage software developers. Non-compliance to HIPPA record retention laws may result in hefty financial, and economic penalties, and in worst cases may also lead to jail time.

Now, HIPAA is a federal law, however, the state laws may also be applied when it comes to medical records release laws. Here in this blog, we will exclusively be looking at the federal and state laws governing the HIPAA medical records release laws, as well as, look at the possible consequence of not complying with the HIPAA laws.

What are HIPAA regulations for medical records?

While HIPAA is an ongoing regulation, compliance with HIPAA laws is an obligation for all healthcare organizations to ensure the security, integrity, and privacy of protected health information (PHI). HIPAA regulations for medical records dictate the mandatory data storage and release policies that all healthcare institutions have to comply with. As a federal law, HIPAA is governed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, the HIPAA regulations for medical records retention and release may differ in different states.

The regulatory standards of HIPAA were established to ensure legal use and disclosure of PHI. The HIPPA compliance is regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and enforced by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is also responsible to provide ongoing guidance towards developments influencing healthcare, while it also holds the authority to investigates the HIPAA violations.

Decoding PHI

Protected Health Information (PHI) is a broad term that is used to denote the patients’ identifiable information (PII) including; name, address, age, sex, and other health0related data which is generally collected and stored by medical practitioners using specialized medical software. Such information is also stored as medical records with third-party service providers like billing/insurance companies.

For instance, John is diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is Protected Health Information (PHI) since it contains the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of John (his name, as well as, his medical condition – obsessive-compulsive disorder). Thereby, in this example, John’s PHI will be protected under HIPAA records retention laws.

There’s another definition referred to as Electronically Protected Health Information (ePHI). ePHI refers to the PHI transmitted, stored, and accessed electronically. The protection of ePHI comes under the HIPAA Security Rule – a modern HIPAA addendum that was established to address the continuously evolving medical technology and growing trend of saving PHI information electronically.

Since we are talking about the protection of ePHI, it’s crucial to outline that medical device UX plays an essential role in protecting and securing the PHI transmission, access, and storage. For this purpose, you can depend on Folio3 because they have years of experience in designing medical apps and software solutions.

Failure to provide patient records can result in a HIPAA fine.

Given the sensitive nature of PHI, HIPAA compliance is strictly regulated. Any violation of HIPAA patient records results in hefty penalties and fines. The strict penalties against HIPAA violations are to encourage healthcare practitioners, hospitals, and software developers to ensure complete compliance with the HIPAA regulations. HIPAA fines aren’t slapped flatly to all violations, rather they are enforced on tiered bases, depending upon the severity, frequency, and knowledge of the non-compliance. Different tiers of HIPAA penalties for non-compliance include;

  • If the medical practitioner or healthcare organization isn’t aware (or couldn’t have reasonably been aware) of the violation, the fines range from USD 110 to USD 55,000 / violation
  • If the violation is caused with a reasonable cause (without willful negligence of medical practitioner or healthcare organization), the fines range from USD 1,100 to USD 55,000
  • If the violation is due to willful negligence of the organization, however, it is ramified within time, the fines range from USD 11,002 to USD 55,000
  • If the violation is due to willful negligence and isn’t timely ramified, the fines range in excess of USD 55,000 per violation

Under all tiers, any repeated violation within the same calendar year leads to a penalty of USD 1,650,300 per violation. Historically, the biggest penalty for HIPAA violation was slapped to Advocate Health System (three data breaches resulting in compromising the privacy of over 4 million patients), which amounted to USD 5.5 million.

Another important thing to remember is that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) reserves the right to impose HIPAA noncompliance fines, even if there are no data breaches of ePHI. Such fines are generally imposed due to lack of adequate security documentation, lack of trained employees dealing with PHI, or failure of healthcare practitioners or medical institutes to acquire a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with third-party service providers.

Laws regarding the release of HIPAA medical records by State in the USA

As federal legislation, HIPAA compliance applies to every citizen in the United States. it is considered the most comprehensive and effective document dealing with the safe collection, retention, and release of Protected Health Information (PHI). However, many states also maintain their own laws concerning health information protection. Interestingly, many state laws governing the privacy and protection of health information predate the HIPAA, whereas, many others were passed to further strengthen or increase the noncompliance punishments.

Thereby, it is important for all organizations (healthcare institutes, medical practitioners, medical software development companies, and other third-party service providers) collecting or processing PHI to stay vigilant about federal HIPAA laws, as well as, state laws. Let’s look at some of the state medical records release laws in the United States;

California HIPAA medical records release laws

–         Medical Doctors:

For medical doctors/practitioners in California, there isn’t a specific state law, however, they are encouraged to hold on to the medical records for an indefinite time, if possible.

–         Hospitals:

For Adult Patients

For adult patients, medical practitioners and healthcare organizations need to maintain the medical records for 7 years following the discharge of the patient.

For Minor Patients

For minor patients in California, healthcare institutes and medical practitioners need to hold the medical records data for 1 year after the patient reaches 18 years of age.

Oregon HIPAA medical records release laws

–         Medical Doctors:

Medical practitioners are required to keep the medical records of patients at least 10 years after the last contact of the patient with the doctor. The law also states that if possible, medical doctors may hold medical records for all living patients indefinitely.

–         Hospitals:

According to Oregon HIPPA medical records release laws, hospitals are required to keep the medical records of patients for 10 years after the date of last discharge.

NC HIPAA medical records release laws

–         Medical Doctors:

N/A

–         Hospitals

For Adult patients:

Hospitals are required to keep the medical records for adults for a period of 11 years following discharge

For Minor Patients:

For minor patients, hospitals in NC are required to hold medical records until the patient’s 30th birthday.

Release of HIPAA medical records laws Kentucky

–         Medical Doctors:

N/A

–         Hospitals

For Adult Patients

According to the Kentucky state laws for release of HIPAA medical records, hospitals are required to retain adult patients information for 5 years from the date of discharge

For Minor Patients

For minor patients, hospitals are required to keep the information for 3 years after the date of discharge or until the patient turns 21 (which is longer).

Release of HIPAA medical records laws Florida

–         Medical Doctors:

Medical doctors in Florida are required to hold patients’ data for the last 5 years

–         Hospitals:

Public hospitals in Florida are required to maintain patients’ data for 7 years from the last date of entry.

Release of HIPAA medical records laws Texas

–         Medical Doctors:

For Adults Patients

Medical doctors in Texas are required to keep medical records for adult patients for 7 years since the last treatment date.

For Minor Patients:

For minor patients, medical doctors are required to keep the records for 7 years until the patient reaches the age of 21 (whichever date is later).

–         Hospitals

For Adult Patients

For adult patients, hospitals in Texas are required to keep the medical records for 10 years from the date of last treatment.

For Minor Patients

Hospitals are required to maintain medical records for the last 10 years from the date of last treatment or until the patient reaches age 20 (whichever is later).

Michigan law regarding the release of HIPAA medical records

–         Medical Doctors:

Medical doctors in Michigan are required to maintain medical records for 7 years from the date of treatment.

–         Hospitals

Hospitals in Michigan are required to keep the medical records for 7 years from the date of last treatment.

Colorado law regarding the release of HIPAA medical records

  • Medical Doctors:

For Adult Patients

Medical doctors in Colorado are required to keep medical records of adult patients for 7 years from the last date of treatment.

For Minor Patients

Medical records for minor patients are to be maintained for 7 years from the last date of treatment or till the patient reaches the age of 18 (whichever is later).

  • Hospitals

For Adult Patients

For adult patients, hospitals are required to maintain records for 10 years since the last date of service

For Minor Patients

Medical records for minor patients are required to be kept for 10 years from the last date of treatment or until the patient reaches the age of 28 (whichever is later).

Can hospitals release information to police in the USA under HIPAA Compliance?

Under HIPAA law, hospitals or medical practitioners can release medical records to law enforcement agencies, without having to take patients’ consent. Law enforcement agencies can retrieve medical information not just from medical practitioners, or hospitals, but also from medical research labs, health plans, and pharmacies.

Can a doctor release medical records to another provider?

Under HIPAA law, a medical practitioner is allowed to share PHI with another healthcare provider without the explicit consent of the patient, provided he reasonably believes that sharing of PHI is important to save a patient or group of persons from imminent or serious harm.

What are the consequences of unauthorized access to patient medical records?

Apart from hefty penalties, unauthorized access to patient medical records may lead to jail time.

Who is allowed to view a patient’s medical information under HIPAA?

Under HIPAA law, only the patient and his personal representative are legally allowed to access medical records. Healthcare providers may in some cases share the information with other medical practitioners where they deem it necessary to save a patient or specific group of individuals from imminent harm. Also, medical records may be shared with a health plan for payment or other purposes with the explicit consent of patients.

When should you release a patient’s medical records under HIPAA Compliance?

Different states maintain different laws regarding the number of years patients’ information has to be protected and retained by hospitals or healthcare practitioners.

Is accessing your own medical records a HIPAA violation?

No. Accessing your personal medical records isn’t a HIPAA violation.

Is HL7 Epic Integration compliant with HIPAA laws?

HL7 is the standard for streamlining information transmission across different healthcare programs and apps. However, it’s up to healthcare providers to ensure the HL7 integrations are compliant with HIPAA regulations. It is important because complying with HIPAA laws will improve the EHRs, and streamline the workflows. Therefore, HL7 Epic integration has to be compliant with HIPAA regulations, and the responsibility falls on healthcare providers.

Contact Us