13. Access to medical records

Patient medical records are confidential and protected under Washington State law as well as under the federal law set forth in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). A patient has the right to view his or her own medical records within a reasonable amount of time after making a request. A patient can make corrections and add information to his or her medical records. 

Generally, a civil patient’s written consent or permission is required to share confidential medical information. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, confidential patient information can be shared with another hospital staff member involved in the patient’s treatment. It can also be shared with a mental health provider that is providing evaluation or treatment in the community or correctional setting. A patient’s close relatives, attorney, personal representative, guardian, or conservator may be told: (1) that the patient is in a facility; (2) that a patient is seriously physically sick; (3) the reason for the stay in the hospital, and; (4) how long he or she is expected to be there. The hospital can tell close relatives or an attorney whatever information may be necessary for them to decide whether to seek a guardian. Records may be released for limited billing purposes or by court order. However, the person who receives the information must continue to keep private information confidential.

The records of forensic patients are also protected, but may be made available to a wider range of people and agencies if they demonstrate a need to access the records. Those who may access a forensic patient’s records are: the patient, his or her attorney, his or her personal physician, the supervising community corrections officer, the prosecuting attorney, the court, Disability Rights Washington, or other expert or professional persons who demonstrate a need for access to such records. Upon request, a forensic patient’s records also must be made available to the Department of Corrections or the indeterminate sentence review board if the person was on parole, probation, or community supervision at the time of detention, hospitalization, or commitment or the person is subsequently convicted for the crime for which he or she was detained, hospitalized, or committed.

Go to the next page:  Section II:  What a patient can do when right are taken away.

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