Starting this term, Harvard University Health Services will cease charging current and former Harvard students and their dependents for copies of their medical records.
Students hoping to access their records previously had to pay $15 for an electronic copy. Physical records cost $2 for the first five pages, and ten cents for each additional page. Now, students who wish to access their records free of charge can fill out a Disclosure of Medical Information form found on the HUHS website, according to an emailed statement from HUHS Chief Medical Officer Soheyla Gharib.
Gharib said students can also now access their “medications, allergies, medical problems, lab and radiology test results, and appointment history” online.
Charging patients for personal copies of their records is standard practice in the healthcare industry, according to Gharib. At Stanford, students must fill out a release form and send it to the Medical Records Department. Students pay $0.15 per page for 76 pages and over. In order to request a copy of their health records at MIT, students must fill out a form to fax or mail to the Medical Records Service. Students may be charged $0.65 per page for the first 100 pages and $0.35 for every additional page.
The change in policy follows a UC-endorsed effort to allow students greater access to their health records. Last semester, Jefferson E. Seidl ’16 spearheaded a project to grant students free access to their own medical records. Along with six co-authors, Seidl wrote an open letter to HUHS officials asking them to “eliminate fees for full record requests by students,” “give students the options to view and download their full records on the HUHS online portal,” and “enable students to transmit their information to third-party apps of their choosing.”
Although Seidl said the cost to obtain medical records was never prohibitively expensive, he said it represented a disconnect between HUHS and Harvard’s other academic institutions.
“A lot of these solutions we’re proposing were created at Harvard and are being implemented across the nation,” Seidl said, citing articles written by Harvard professors, as well as Harvard Medical School’s Open Notes Study, a project researching the effects of patient access to their full visit notes from physicians.
“We thought we’d pen this letter to try to synchronize the literature and the research that is coming out of this institution with the care that we are being provided with. It’s really about a token of faith between HUHS and the patient network,” Daniel V. Banks ’17, one of the co-authors, said.
Seidl said that while the new HUHS policy was encouraging, Harvard students should have even more access to their medical information.
“Total empowerment would look like students being able to access as much of their information as they want to access online,” Seidl said. “If for any reason a student doesn’t want all of their information online, they should be able to download it for free as structured data or they should be able to transmit it to other doctors at 3 a.m. UHS time when they’re in the ER in terror. It’s being able to control your data for any reason you see fit.”
Seidl plans to continue working with HUHS on improving student health record accessibility.
“It’s really all about the choice. We’re not saying everyone should be forced to have all of these features. We’re saying people who want full empowerment should be given the choice of full empowerment,” Seidl said.
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