Best kept secret: You now have free access to all your medical records

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As of last Thursday, under new federal rules, healthcare organizations must give patients timely access to all their medical records in digital format without cost. This reverses the usual practice that only gave patients costly access to just some of their data, while data brokers profited by selling deidentified data and analysis to drug companies, device makers, and insurers. While HIPAA, a federal law from 1996, was supposed to give patients access to their records, it never worked that way. Restricting access to records helped hospitals and health systems restrict patients’ ability to get care outside the system. The new rule is part of last year’s 21st Century Cures Act.

Providers and healthcare managers have asked for delays. Despite the deadline, experts expect it will take time before the rule is fully implemented in the real world. But it is a massive step forward in helping patients control their own healthcare, exercise their right to choose treatments and providers, and feel comfortable participating in research to improve everyone’s health.