Script 421 gives information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer. For the name of a lawyer to consult, call Lawyer Referral at 604.687.3221 in the lower mainland or 1.800.663.1919 elsewhere in British Columbia.
This script explains who owns medical records and the information in them, how to see your own medical records, and who else can see them.
Who do medical records belong to?
Many people think that their medical records are their own property, and that if they want to see them, they just have to ask. That’s only partly true. Your medical records actually belong to the doctor or hospital that made them, not to you. That’s also the case with dental records and nursing home records. But the information in the medical records belongs to you, and normally, you have a right to see that information. The records should include any treatment or procedure that went wrong because courts have said that doctors have a legal duty to give patients that type of information.
Medical records that your doctor keeps
To see the medical records your doctor has on you, just ask to see them. Your doctor has a privacy officer – usually the doctor – who will deal with your request. Under the BC Personal Information Protection Act, you have a right to see the information. And the doctor will normally show you the records or give you the information in them. You can also ask for a copy of your records, but the doctor may charge you a fee (set by the BC Medical Association) to copy them because medical insurance does not pay for this.
The law requires doctors to make sure the information in your medical records is accurate and to keep it private. If you think the doctor made a mistake in your medical records, you can ask him or her to make a new entry in the record about your concern. The doctor has to make a note of your request. But once medical information is recorded, it is not supposed to be destroyed or changed based on a patient’s request.
Rarely, a doctor may refuse to give you the information in your medical record, thinking that it could cause immediate or grave harm to your safety or to your physical or mental health. If that happens, and you can’t solve the problem with your doctor, contact the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC. The College’s Complaints Department may be able to help you. The College phone number is 604.733.7758 in Vancouver and 1.800.461.3008 elsewhere in BC. Its website is www.cpsbc.ca.
If you still can’t solve the problem, contact the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC. The Commissioner’s phone number in Victoria is 250.387.5629. The website is www.oipc.bc.ca and the email address is email@example.com. Outside of Victoria, call Enquiry BC and ask for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. To reach Enquiry BC, call 604.660.2421 in the lower mainland and 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC.
Lastly, you can see a lawyer for legal advice on what to do.
Medical records that a hospital keeps
To see your hospital records, contact the medical or health records department of the hospital and ask for their information and privacy office or the person in charge of giving out information. If you make a written request, the hospital has 30 days to respond. Usually, you can see your hospital records and get a copy. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act covers hospital records. Check script 235, called “Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy,” for more on this law.
The law requires hospitals to make sure the information in your medical records is accurate and to keep it private. The law also gives you the right to ask the hospital to correct any errors or omissions in your records. The hospital has to make a note of your request. But once medical information is recorded, it is not supposed to be destroyed or changed based on a patient’s request.
If a hospital refuses to let you see your records, it must tell you why. If you disagree with the hospital’s decision, you can ask the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC to review it.
Lastly, you can see a lawyer for legal advice on what to do.
Are your medical records confidential?
Yes, in most cases your medical records are confidential. Doctors and hospitals must not give them to anyone else, except in certain cases:
- Other people who give you medical care, such as specialists, will need your medical records.
- If you’re in a lawsuit about your medical history, your lawyer will need your medical records. Usually, doctors and hospitals will copy your medical records to your lawyer if you ask them to.
- A court can order your medical records be shown to other people and lawyers in a lawsuit.
- If you apply for life or health insurance, the insurance company will often need your medical records before giving you insurance.
- Some types of jobs may require medical information. However, potential employers can get your records only if you agree to let them see the records.
Section 18 of the Personal Information Protection Act, which applies to doctors, lists other reasons for giving out personal information – some of them could apply to medical records. Section 33 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which applies to hospitals, lists other reasons for giving out personal information - some of them could apply to medical records. Both laws are on the following website: www.bclaws.ca.
Doctors also have to release medical information to authorities in certain cases. For example, they must:
- report children at risk to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
- tell the motor vehicle branch when a person's ability to drive may be reduced.
- tell police if someone’s life or safety may be at risk.
And if police have a search warrant, a doctor may have to release information to obey the warrant.
[updated June 2012]
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