Sharp HealthCare Pays $70,000 Penalty to Settle its HIPAA Right of Access Violation

The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has penalized Sharp HealthCare $70,000 for not being able to deliver prompt access to a patient’s health records. This is the 16th financial penalty issued by OCR in association with the HIPAA Right of Access enforcement initiative that began in the latter part of 2019.

OCR got a patient complaint on June 11, 2019 that stated Sharp Healthcare, also known as Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers (SRMC), was unable to give him a copy of his health records in 30 days as the HIPAA Privacy Rule requires.

The patient explained that he made a written request on April 2, 2019 yet did not receive the requested records even after over 2 months. OCR looked into the complaint and offered technical support to SRMC regarding the HIPAA Right of Access provision of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the need to deliver medical records to a third party when asked for by a patient. OCR marked the complaint as resolved on June 25, 2019.

OCR received a second complaint from the same patient submitted on August 19, 2019 because the requested medical records were not yet received. The complainant eventually got the required medical records on October 15, 2019, after over 6 months since the patient first requested the records.

OCR affirmed that not delivering the requested records within the prescribed time violated 45 C.F.R. § 164.524 and the HIPAA violation called for finance charges. If the provider gave the records on time after getting technical support, a financial penalty might have been averted.

Besides spending $70,000 on penalty, Sharp HealthCare has consented to follow a corrective action plan with OCR’s close supervision for compliance in a period of 2 years. The corrective action plan calls for Sharp HealthCare to create, keep, and update, as required, policies and guidelines that cover patient requests for copies of their medical information. Employees must have training regarding the people’s right to access their own PHI.

In a statement concerning the most recent settlement, Acting OCR Director Robinsue Frohboese stated that patients have the right to prompt access to their medical information. OCR designed the Right of Access Initiative to implement and protect this vital right.