Area of Law: Privacy Law
Answer # 697
Who can access your health records?Region: Ontario Answer # 697
Who has records and which records can be accessed?
Whenever you receive treatment or services by a health professional, hospital, clinic, or laboratory, there are usually records kept with your personal information. Normally, the location where the treatment was provided will keep records about the treatment, and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care will keep records of every service billed to OHIP. Under the law, you generally have the right to have any records held by the government kept private. You also have the right to access those records. However, this right does not necessarily apply to non-governmental offices.
Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) helps protect private information held by all provincial ministries and most provincial agencies. The Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information within the health care system. Both Acts are overseen by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC). Under the Personal Health Information Protection Act, you have the right to request access to your own personal health information held by health care providers, called health information custodians, such as doctors, nurses and dentists, and others involved in the delivery of health care services, including pharmacies, medical laboratories or local medical officers of health.
Accessing health records held by a doctor, clinic, or hospital
Under the Personal Health Information Protection Act, if you want to access your records from a health care provider such as a doctor, clinic, or hospital, you will need to ask if there is a procedure for making such a request. You may be required to make a request in writing and pay an administrative fee. Health care providers have 30 to 60 days, depending on the circumstances, to respond to your request.
If your health care provider refuses to release your personal health information to you, you have the right to file a complaint with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Co-ordinator at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. To file a complaint, simply write a letter stating the details of your issue and submit it to the Privacy Co-ordinator.
Accessing health records held by the government
Health records held by the Ontario government are usually kept by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. These include your personal information and the details of medical treatment you have received that has been paid for by OHIP. This includes blood tests, visits to doctors, and hospital care.
To obtain access to your health records held by the government, or if your initial request to a health care provider is denied, you can make a written Freedom of Information request to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Co-ordinator (IPC) at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. There is a small administrative fee. In your letter, state that you are making the request under either the Freedom of Information and Right to Privacy Act, or the Personal Health Information Protection Act. You can also make your request by filling out a request form available on the websites of both the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.
If you are not satisfied with the government’s response to your request, you can appeal the decision. To appeal, write a letter to the Registrar of the IPC describing why you are not satisfied. Your letter of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the government’s decision.
When can your health records be released to others?
There are some circumstances where your health records may be released to others. These include if you consent to the release, if there is a court order to release records, or if the government passes a law allowing records to be released. This might happen in the case of communicable diseases, where releasing individual health records is believed to help safeguard the health of the general population.
For additional information on requesting health records from the government, contact the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario. If you need to access records for a legal matter, you should consult a lawyer.
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