– The Obama administration is tearing down barriers that make it difficult for patients to get access to their medical records, telling doctors and hospitals that in most cases they must provide copies of these records within 30 days of receiving a request.

In theory, patients have long had a right to obtain copies of their records, but federal officials say they receive large numbers of complaints from consumers frustrated in trying to exercise that right.

New guidelines issued this month say doctors and hospitals cannot require patients to state a reason for requesting their records, and cannot deny access out of a general concern that patients might be upset by the information.

“Far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information,” said Jocelyn Samuels, director of civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. “This must change.”

Under the new guidelines, a health care provider cannot require patients to pick up their records in person if they ask that the records be sent by mail or e-mail. A health care provider cannot deny a request for access to health information because a patient has failed to pay medical bills. Fees can be charged to cover the cost of copying.

New York Times