By Jackie Kucinich - 07/20/06 12:00 AM EDT
As a result of a dispute between the Office of the Attending Physician and a group of Architect of the Capitol (AoC) employees, the physician’s office has decided to change the policy dictating how Capitol Hill staff can obtain their medical records, according to a spokesman.
“They wanted to regularize their process of providing [medical] information,” House Administration Committee spokesman Jon Brandt said.
He said the changes are driven in part by the difficulties several employees who work in the Capitol complex’s underground utility tunnels encountered when they tried to obtain their medical records last month.
The physician’s office attributes some of the problems, Brandt said, to a lack of consistent staffing at the Rayburn office, where the tunnel employees requested their records. He explained that since the staff in that area is smaller, if someone is absent or on a break a patient seeking his or her records might not receive the documents in a timely fashion.
“The records will be brought over to the main Capitol office because it is always fully staffed,” he said. “That’s what caused some of the problems” with the tunnel crew.
Under the new procedures, an individual requesting records will be required to fill out a medical release form. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, the office then has 15 days to fulfill the request and gather the records, but Brandt said the physician’s office would strive to honor the request within two business days.
When the records are ready, the patient will be notified that they are available.
Some of the issues with the old system were brought to the forefront last month when AoC employee Christian Raley went to the physician’s office to obtain records he had requested two weeks earlier.
Although he said he had been called to pick up the records, a nurse at the office told him that they had been shipped to an AoC-affiliated contractor and that he would be unable to obtain them.
Although the contractor is frequently used and the doctor’s office and is authorized to view records, Raley said he felt that his privacy had been violated.
Later he discovered that records for nine of his colleagues had been pulled as well in response to a request they made to the AoC to allow them to visit the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers in Michigan for a medical evaluation at government expense.
At least three members of the tunnel team will travel to Detroit this weekend to be tested for high levels of asbestos exposure.
Raley said that when he contacted the doctor on duty to ask why his records were transferred he was told that the AoC owns the records and that AoC officials “could do what they wanted with them” and could send them “wherever they deemed necessary.”
“They took my records without asking me,” Raley said at the time. “Now I can’t go to my doctor because I don’t have my records.”
The records had been sent to the contractor to be reviewed for any signs of asbestosis-related diseases, the tunnel workers told The Hill.
Attending Physician John Eisold explained at a Senate oversight hearing that the incident was a misunderstanding and that the medical records were available; however, the records were still not available directly after the hearing, according to members of the tunnel crew.
As of press time, the tunnel crew had not been notified of the changes.
The physician’s office is optimistic that the new policies will help avoid confusion in the future.
The new regulations ensure “the doctor’s office had some direction” according to Brandt.
“They recognized there were some weaknesses and wanted to improve their service,” Brandt said.