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The Danger in Letting Hospitals Decide What is a “Medical Record”

Have you ever called a customer service number trying to find out the answer to a question only to be transferred to ten different departments and spending 2 hours on what was supposed to be a 5 minute phone call? Well, this process may become the norm for patients seeking to obtain their medical records depending on the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Griffith v. Aultman Hospital.

In medical malpractice cases, the routine practice has been to contact the hospital’s medical records department, request the patient’s records, pay the costs/fees, and be on your way. Recently, a new trend has emerged where hospitals are storing some records in their risk management department, or some other department, claiming that these records are not part of the patient’s “medical records”. In other words, the patient cannot access those records, simply because they happen to be stored in a different filing cabinet. The danger, of course, is that hospitals would have the power to determine what they perceive to be a “medical record”. Hospitals argue it is too burdensome to save all of the medical records, however, attorney Gerry Leeseberg explains that argument is without merit:

“It is incomprehensible that the Court could even consider allowing a medical provider to determine what is, and what is not, part of a patient’s medical record, no matter what the supposed ‘burden’ is. Whatever technological difficulty or expense is currently involved, it certainly pales in comparison to that of maintaining voluminous hard/paper copies of patient charts covering hundreds if not thousands of pages, which has existed since the beginning of medical documentation.”

It may be a cynical approach, but the real issue doesn’t seem to be the supposed burden of maintaining volumes of records that hospitals will suffer. Instead, it seems to be a ploy to avoid disclosing certain records to patients and their attorneys. In Supreme Court case, the issue isn’t about the burden on the hospital having to maintain the records – they clearly are already doing that in the risk management department. It is clear that the hospital is trying to avoid having to disclose certain medical records merely because they are stored in a different area of the building. “Wasn’t the actual information sought still in existence and maintained by the hospital, and simply designated by the hospital ‘not part of the patient’s chart’?” asks Gerry Leeseberg.

This is an example of how medical providers are trying to prevent patients from bringing a lawsuit against them. If the hospital’s position is upheld in this case, hospitals will most certainly try to claim that more portions of a patient’s chart are not “medical records.” This is a dangerous and slippery slope, which could have far-reaching ramifications on medical malpractice actions. If patients and their attorney are handcuffed by the hospitals ability to pick and choose which parts of a patient’s chart constitute a “medical record,” it could make it nearly impossible to prove the case.

If you or someone you know are a victim of medical malpractice, or are having trouble accessing your medical records, please contact us and see if we can be of assistance to you.