Medical records and your rights
Doctors have a duty to
keep proper medical records. Medical records relating to your care must also be
kept confidential by GPs and hospital staff. However, you are entitled to get
access to the records and can do so in several ways.
You can simply ask your
doctor to see the records. You can secure the information under the Freedom of
Information Act, under the Data Protection Act or through legal action.
The law relating to
medical records is ill defined. Health authorities may argue that the actual
medical records are the property of the doctor or the hospital. Much depends on
whether your contract is with a doctor or a hospital or clinic.
information contained in the records is information that is the rightful property
of the patient. For example, should the patient wish to change doctor, the
information in the records would be needed for their continuing care.
Under the Freedom of
Information Act you can secure your records from public hospitals but this
legislation does not cover private hospitals.
A doctor may refuse to
disclose information in medical records to a patient, if he feels that this
could cause serious harm to the physical or emotional well being of the
patient. In such cases, the patient may request that the information be
disclosed to a nominated person Ė for example another health professional.
Where a patient is
deceased, access to medical records may be provided to a person who is
administering the estate of the deceased, or the spouse or next of kin.
The key principle for
doctors under Medical Council guidelines is that they must not disclose
information about your care or illness to any other person, without your
consent. A doctor who breaches confidentiality can be reported to the Medical
Council and may face a hearing into his or her conduct. Confidentiality is the
cornerstone of medical care.
This rule does not
apply however, when the information is needed by a court of law. A doctor may
also need to disclose details of a patientís care if it is in the patientís
best interests or if an infectious disease is involved and must be reported. In
other rare instances, a doctor may feel he must disclose something that a
patient has told him during a consultation - to protect a third party.