An Arizona policymaker signed a new law requiring any closing healthcare organization in the state to enable patient access to EHRs.

By Kate Monica

 – Arizona governor Doug Ducey recently signed new legislation into law requiring any closing healthcare provider in the state to grant patients access to EHRs to reduce the likelihood patients will suffer delays in care due to problems retrieving their health information, according to AZCentral.

According to the new law, providers that fail to give patients access to their health records will face a $10,000 fine and be denied licenses to facilities in the future.

This legislation was drafted largely because of one Arizona college student’s inability to receive life-saving surgery due to ongoing problems gaining access to her health information.

A physician treating Caitlin Secrist to resolve issues related to her pancreatitis refused to perform surgery until viewing her complete medical history. However, Secrist’s health record was locked in a repossessed Medhost EHR system taken from Florence Hospital and Gilbert Hospital.

Florence and Gilbert were shut down in June 2018 after filing for bankruptcy. After the hospitals closed, more than 300 patients — including Secrist — had been denied access to their patient EHRs.

The new state law will require closing hospitals and healthcare organizations to send health records back to patients or hand health records over to other entities, such as statewide health information exchanges (HIEs) where patients can access the data when they need it.

“It feels really good to know I may be helping someone in the future,” Secrist told AZCentral. “This shouldn’t happen to anybody. Your records should be yours.”

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Senator Heather Carter (R-AZ) assisted in passing the legislation.

“This is government doing what it should do — solve problems for the people of Arizona,” said Carter. “It’s just common sense that people should have access to medical records at the time they’re needed most.”

Arizona’s HIE, Health Current, will be instrumental in ensuring patients can still access their EHRs after their treating medical facilities close. However, not all Arizona hospitals are currently linked with the HIE. Florence and Gilbert hospitals were not connected to the voluntary exchange.

Secrist is currently waiting for her treating clinicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital to complete their review of her complete health information to determine the next step in her care.

Problems obtaining patient health records from the repossessed Medhost system partly stemmed from confusion over which entity was responsible for paying for access to the EHR system after Florence and Gilbert hospitals declared bankruptcy.

Creditors were engaged in a legal battle over who would be responsible for temporarily restoring the system for months. This newest legislation from Arizona policymakers is intended to ensure a similar legal battle never delays patient access to EHRs in the future.

Streamlining patient access to EHRs has been a top priority among federal entities over the past few years.

In March 2018, CMS Administrator Seema Verma announced a new initiative from the Trump Administration — called MyHealthEData — designed to improve EHR patient data access.

The government-wide initiative includes participation from the White House Office of American Innovation, HHS, CMS, ONC, VA, and the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The initiative is intended to give patients more control over their personal health information by eliminating barriers to health data access. If the imitative achieves its goal, patients will have access to their EHRs through the device or application of their choice.

MyHealthEData will also enable patients to choose the provider that best meets their needs and grant that provider secure access to their health data.

By giving patients full access to their own EHRs, the initiative may help patients receive care from any provider and at any facility in a timely manner.