Accessing Your Medical Records: What You Need to Know and How to Get Them – A Guide for Australians
Can I gain access to my medical records?
Yes - but there are exceptions.
If a practitioner or hospital (public or private) decides that it would be harmful to a patient to allow him/her access to their medical records, access can be denied. However, you can challenge a decision by a hospital/doctor who denies you access to your records (see below).
Your records held by public hospitals are generally available for access by you or your legal practitioner after you have provided written consent or authority and paid the required fee.
Records held by private hospitals, however, are generally more difficult to obtain despite consent or authority from an individual. Higher fees will generally be charged.
Who "owns" my medical records?
Australian law says that an individual does not own his/her medical records. A private practitioner, eg, your GP, owns the medical record.
Can anyone else get access to my medical records?
Yes but access can only be obtained with your consent or by Court process (a subpoena).
No access to your medical records can be given to a third party, eg, insurer/pathologist/other medical practitioner unless you provide your consent.
How do I get access to my medical records?
Your request must:1. Be in writing;
State your name and address;
Identify the medical records you seek (ie, the date/s of admission to hospital or the date of consultation with the doctor);
Specify how you wish the information to be provided.
Private Hospitals are entitled to make other arrangements for access to Health Information they hold. Each facility will have a specific procedure and paperwork that must be completed and followed before access will be granted.
What does the Doctor/Hospital do when they get my request?
A Doctor/Hospital must respond to your request within 45 days and advise whether they are going to allow you access or allow or refuse you access to the information.
If you are refused access then you must be provided with a written reason for the refusal and that refusal must be written and provided in accordance with the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002. If the Doctor/Hospital fails to respond to your request, then they are taken to have refused you access.
Will it cost me any money?
Yes. Hospitals and practitioners impose fees for retrieval of your records and photocopying expenses.
Public hospitals currently charge $33.00 (including GST) for access to a copy of a "reasonable" size medical record.
Additional costs are imposed for lengthy documents, eg, admissions to the intensive care unit.
Private hospitals differ in their fees and charges. You will obtain that information from the medical records department.
Can I obtain my deceased relative's medical records?
Yes but generally only in the following circumstances:1. If you are documented in the medical records as being (or can prove you are) the deceased's next-of-kin;
If you are an Executor of the deceased's estate and can provide a copy of the deceased's will;
If the Executor makes an application on your behalf.
Can I get medical records belonging to anyone else?
You are only entitled to access your health information. If, however, you wish to obtain health information about your child or next-of-kin, then special rules will apply.
You can obtain health information about your children if you provide sufficient identification that you are a parent. Please note that special rules may apply if you are non-custodial parent. In this case, you may need to obtain the consent from the custodial parent. If you wish to obtain such information for Family Court or other proceedings, then the best way to obtain this information is to issue a Subpoena for Production to obtain that health information.
Can I issue a subpoena to get my medical records?
A subpoena can only be issued by a Court to a hospital or doctor if you have commenced or are a party to litigation (legal proceedings) in a Court of law.
When you can't access your medical records:
As a rule, you will not be granted health information in the following circumstances:1. If the health information does not relate to you;
If you are not a parent and/or legal guardian;
If you are not next-of-kin;
If the health information relates to a third party, even though you are legally married or defacto spouse;
If an organization is lawfully authorised or required not to comply with a request for access (eg, pursuant to an Act of law, including the State Records Act 1998);
If disclosure of health information is believed by the holder that information is:
a serious imminent threat to the life, heath or safety of the individual or another person;
a serious threat to public health or public safety;
the disclosure of information identifies other individuals.
Challenging a refusal to grant access to medical records:
If you are refused access to your medical records on the grounds that access poses a serious threat to your life or health, you may be able to request that your records be forwarded to a registered doctor but your request must be made within 21 days after you are notified that you have been refused access.
If so, your medical records must be provided to your doctor within 21 days.
If you think your privacy has been breached by a doctor/hospital, you can make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. The Commissioner has the power to investigate, conduct conciliation and make determinations about complaints. The Commissioner will not investigate a claim that is found to be trivial or without foundation, and an investigation will not be undertaken by the Commissioner unless you first lodge a complaint with the Doctor/Hospital who you allege has breached your privacy.
Julia Sweeney is a lawyer and a registered nurse who has qualifications in Emergency Nursing and Health Management, as well as first-hand experience assessing medical records and histories .
Julia works exclusively in the area of litigation. She brings a wealth of research and forensic experience to the law.
Julia was admitted to practice as a lawyer in 2001 and holds a Diploma in Law from the Legal Practitioners Admission Board and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Julia's nursing qualifications include: Diploma of Science (Nursing) from the University of Sydney; Emergency Nursing Certificate from the NSW College of Nursing, and a Graduate Diploma in Health Policy and Management from University of Wollongong.