Doctors relocating or retiring – what happens to the records

12 Dec 2011

This issue is a perennial source of inquiries to AMA offices.  The most common scenario is that a doctor has retired or moved and the patient wants to know how to obtain a copy of their records. The problem can also arise when a doctor joins a corporate practice and takes the records to the corporate.  Where a doctor dies, the records will become the property of the executor of the doctor’s estate.  Sometimes the only way the patient can access the records is to locate the doctor or the executor and seek a copy of the records. 

The obligations upon doctors to retain records arises from laws in some states and territories and from the Medical Board code of conduct.

Patient records are the subject of specific legislation in NSW, ACT and Victoria*.   In those states generally the requirement is to keep records for 7 years or, in the case of a child, until the child would turn age 25.   In those states with legislation, it is sufficient if the records are kept electronically.

The code of conduct Good Medical Practice –A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia issued by the Medical Board of Australia has this to say:

8.4 Medical records

Maintaining clear and accurate medical records is essential for the continuing good care of patients. Good medical practice involves:

8.4.1 Keeping accurate, up-to-date and legible records that report relevant

details of clinical history, clinical findings, investigations, information

given to patients, medication and other management.

8.4.2 Ensuring that your medical records are held securely and are not subject to unauthorised access.

8.4.6 Recognising patients’ right to access information contained in their medical records and facilitating that access.

8.4.7 Promptly facilitating the transfer of health information when requested by the patient.

Some things you should consider:

  1. It is a good idea to notify patients if you are planning to retire or relocate and advise them how they may, in the future, obtain copies of records.
  2. If you are a doctor practicing as part of a group practice and planning to retire, you could arrange for copies of your records be retained by the rest of the group. If you retire most commonly patients will gravitate to some of the other doctors in the group.   

*New South Wales, s25 of the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002.

ACT, Principle 4.1 of Schedule 1 of the Health Records (Privacy and Access) Act 1997.

Victoria, Clause 4.2 of Schedule 1 of the Health Records Act 2001.