Health professionals will collect a lot of information about your health and the treatment you receive. A medical record contains personal information, so it’s important to know who can see it, change it and copy it. This section covers your rights in relation to your medical records and other privacy issues, such as talking about sensitive matters with health professionals.
It’s important to note that your rights may vary depending on which state or territory you live in. For specific information, contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, talk to your treatment team, or seek independent legal advice.
When you are treated for a medical condition, either in or out of hospital, the person treating you creates notes about your health. This is called a medical record.
A medical record could be handwritten or electronic and it will include notes about:
Every treatment centre you attend will keep a medical record about you, and they will add to that record each time you visit or have tests.
The treatment centre or health professional who creates a medical record owns and maintains the record. However, Australian law considers ownership and access as separate – so although you don’t own the medical record, you can request access to it.
Different states and territories may have different requirements about how long doctors and treatment centres must keep your records after your last consultation.
Australian privacy standards establish a general rule that organisations are required to provide you with access to personal information (such as medical records) held about you.
This standard has been developed because giving people access to their medical records:
You can authorise someone else to see your medical records, such as a relative, interpreter or another health professional. Your records may also be provided to the health ombudsman if you make a complaint about your health care.
If you would like to see your medical records, ask your health care provider (e.g. GP, specialist, hospital or treatment centre) for access. You may have to put the request in writing and provide proof of identity, such as a driver’s licence or birth certificate.
There is no set time limit for a health care provider to meet a request for medical records. However, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner recommends that a request should be processed within 30 days.
The health care provider may charge a fee to copy your record (public hospitals usually charge about $30), but there shouldn’t be a fee to just look at the record.
Rarely, you won’t be allowed to have a copy of your medical records because:
You can ask for changes to your medical records if you think the records are inaccurate, irrelevant or misleading. You should make this request in writing.
If a treatment centre refuses to change your medical record because they think it is correct as it is or that your suggested changes are not appropriate, it must provide a written explanation for the decision. If you disagree with the decision, you can make a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner or to the health ombudsman or complaints commission in your state or territory.
When you are having treatment, you have a right to privacy and confidentiality. Some privacy issues that may affect you include:
If you’re concerned about your privacy, talk to your treatment team or hospital social worker.