Medical staff 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 page covers your rights in relation to your medical records and other privacy issues, such as talking about sensitive issues with health professionals.
It’s important to note that your rights may vary depending on where you live in Australia, so for more specific information, you’ll need to consult the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the privacy ombudsman in your state or territory, talk to your medical team, or seek independent legal advice.
When you're 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 includes notes about services provided, scans and the interpretation of results, recommendations about treatments, personal details (e.g. genetic information) and correspondence to health professionals. It could be handwritten or electronic.
Every treatment centre you attend will keep a medical record about you, and will add to that record each time you visit or have tests.
The treatment centre or health care professional who creates a medical record owns and maintains it. However, the law considers ownership and access separate – so although you don’t own the records, you can request access to them (see below).
Different states may have different requirements about how long doctors and treatment centres must keep your records after your last consultation. Some states don’t have specific legislation about keeping medical records (for instance, South Australia doesn't have a specific timeframe).
Australian privacy standards (National Privacy Principle 6/Australian Privacy Principles 12) 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 set because giving people access to their records:
You can authorise someone else to see a record, such as a relative, interpreter or another health professional.
To see your medical record, ask your health provider. You'll probably have to put the request in writing, and you may have to provide some proof of identity, such as a drivers licence or birth certificate.
They may also charge a fee to copy your record (public hospitals usually charge about $30), but there should be no fee to just look at the record.
Rarely, you won’t be allowed to have a copy of your medical record because:
You can ask for changes to your medical records if you think they’re inaccurate, irrelevant or misleading. You should make this request in writing. If a treatment centre refuses to change your medical record, because they think the record is correct or that your suggested changes aren't appropriate, it must provide a written explanation.
"Ask for a copy of your test results. You’re paying for it and it’s your body. Some specialists get a little sticky when you ask. Don’t feel guilty or let them put you on the spot." — Ben
When you're having treatment, you have a right to privacy and confidentiality. Some privacy issues that may affect you include: