Don’t gouge for medical records

  • Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2013 12:01 a.m.

When reports abound about hospitals charging $18 for a baby aspirin, $71 for a blood pressure pill and $111 for a pill to reduce nausea, charging $3,801.30 for a digital copy of a patient’s medical records should be no surprise.

But it is nevertheless outrageous.

Many hospitals adopted billing rates after 1992 when the S.C. Legislature specified maximum fees they could charge. Back then, hospital staff had to copy paper files, one page at a time. It was labor-intensive and the costs of paper and ink cartridges were significant. So 65 cents for each of the first 30 pages and 50 cents per page after that, $15 in clerical costs plus shipping and sales tax was defensible.

But today more and more hospitals in South Carolina are keeping records electronically. Copying them digitally on a disk is fast and inexpensive. In such cases, it is unfair to charge patients rates intended for paper copies.

Our Lauren Sausser reported Friday on Gloria Aslanidis of West Ashley requesting her father’s Medical University Hospital records on a disk. She needed the information to file benefits for a pressure-relieving mattress for her father.

The records were extensive — almost 7,000 pages. But she said the hospital processed her request in a few hours, so she was understandably stunned to be billed more than $3,800.

MUSC officials said hospital records will be fully digitized in July, and after that, the costs of releasing medical records will be reassessed. Why wait?

People like Ms. Aslanidis need medical records now, and at a reasonable cost.

Overcharging patients for their records shouldn’t be tolerated at MUH or any of the other hospitals that haven’t adjusted their copying fees to reflect a faster, less expensive process.

In the upcoming session, the S.C. Legislature can — and should — revisit its 1992 Physicians’ Patient Records Act and assign appropriate fees for digital records.

But again, that takes time Ms. Aslanidis and others like her don’t have.

Medicine seems to change constantly: new medicines, new surgical techniques and improved diagnoses. And that includes the expanding use of telemedicine and digitalization of information.

Patient costs should be re-evaluated along with other changes to ensure that bills are fair and accurate.

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