How timely must a covered entity be in responding to individuals’ requests for access to their PHI?
Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a covered entity must act on an individual’s request for access no later than 30 calendar days after receipt of the request. If the covered entity is not able to act within this timeframe, the entity may have up to an additional 30 calendar days, as long as it provides the individual – within that initial 30-day period – with a written statement of the reasons for the delay and the date by which the entity will complete its action on the request. See 45 CFR 164.524(b)(2).
These timelines apply regardless of whether:
- The PHI that is the subject of the request is maintained by the covered entity or by a business associate on behalf of the covered entity, or the covered entity uses a business associate to fulfill individual requests for access. The 30-day clock starts on the date that the covered entity receives a request for access, so any delay in obtaining the necessary information from a business associate or forwarding the request to the business associate for action “uses up” part of the allotted time. Alternatively, the 30-day clock starts when, instead of the covered entity, a business associate receives a request directly from an individual because the covered entity instructed the individual through its notice of privacy practices (or otherwise) to submit the access request directly to its business associate for processing.
- The covered entity negotiates with the individual on the format of the response. Covered entities that spend significant time before reaching agreement with individuals on format are depleting the 30 days allotted for the response by that amount of time.
- The PHI that is the subject of the request is old, archived, and/or not otherwise readily accessible.
These timelines are outer limits, and it is expected that many covered entities should be able to respond to requests for access well before these outer limits are reached. However, in cases where a covered entity is aware that an access request may take close to these outer time limits to fulfill, the entity is encouraged to provide the requested information in pieces as it becomes available, if the individual indicates a desire to receive the information in such a manner.