Ask LH: How Can I Gain Access To My Medical Records?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm currently in the process of changing jobs within my organisation and as part of that process I need to supply my employer with medical information from laser eye surgery I had six months ago (it's an aviation-related job). I have contacted my health practitioner on numerous occasions and asked them to send me a copy of my medical records or even a report detailing the outcome of the surgery, but they continue to give me the runaround. I have the feeling they are worried I am taking my file to another doctor.

What rights do I have to get access to my medical files and take copies, and what resources are available to me if I'm not being allowed access?

Thanks Record Runaround

Medical records picture from Shutterstock

Dear RR,

Somewhat annoyingly, you don't have an absolute right to your medical records in Australia. As this summary at FindLaw points out, doctors can choose to withhold access to your records if they believe such information might be harmful to you, and hospitals can charge a fee to gain access to the records they hold. Unfortunately, if a doctor decides to withhold access purely because they are worried you might move to another practice, you'll need a lawyer to challenge the decision.

Clearly, this isn't a particularly satisfactory situation. The long-term solution will be the introduction of personal e-health records, which are controlled by the patient rather than the practitioner. You can sign up for one of those, but unfortunately that won't immediately solve your current problem.

The FindLaw summary does offer a few strategic suggestions on how you can try and gain access to your records:

  • Make sure that the request is in writing, and not made over the phone or in person.
  • Make the request very specific, both in terms of why you need it and the information you need. In this case, presumably all you need is confirmation of what surgery was performed — not your entire medical record.
  • As it seems unlikely your GP performed the actual surgery, consider asking the surgeon who did perform the task, or the hospital or facility where it was performed.

If readers have dealt with similar situations in the past, we'd be keen to know how you resolved them. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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    The best solution is to contact the hospital's Medical/Clinical Records department and ask for a request for record form to be emailed/faxed to you. It probably will cost you ~$50 and the records will either be couriered to you or available for pickup from the hospital in 3-5 business days.

    If your records are in a Queensland public hospital, go through FOI. I helped a family member get her full 4000 page file. One of her treating doctors denied her on the grounds it was harmful to her (they were mental health and normal health records). She appealed the decision asking for his exact reasons, next thing you know the full CD turned up on our doorstep (the bastard knew he didn't have a leg to stand on).

    Side note: There were legal, Police, criminal and threatening behavior from their side for 20 years so he knew he was in trouble.

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