Access to Medical Records by Doctors Who Are Not Treating the Patients Concerned - 2002

21 Oct 2002

Federal privacy legislation and legislation in some States and Territories govern the issue of patient access to medical records. In addition the AMA has a position statement on patient access (see: Guidelines for doctors on providing patient access to medical records 1997).

Additionally, consistent with the provisions of its Code of Ethics, the Australian Medical Association has enunciated clear guidance of a general nature on the importance of medical confidentiality, including the confidentiality of the contents of medical records (see Resolution 15/86).

1. Doctors' access to records

1.1 In the normal course of patient management, occasions arise where doctors and other health professionals involved in the provision of care for patients require access to medical records concerning those patients for optimisation of their treatment.

1.2 Sometimes, urgent access to such information may be sought by telephone, particularly in respect of recent investigational studies and reports (radiology, pathology, ECG and other specialised studies).

1.3 The AMA supports the continued exchange of such information, in utmost good faith, between doctors and other health care professionals involved in the care of patients.

2. Abuse of medical privilege to obtain access to records

2.1 Occasionally, however, doctors or other health care professionals may abuse their position of trust to obtain confidential information concerning patients either from relevant medical records or from other investigational agencies/departments which provide reports destined for eventual inclusion on medical records.

2.2 In the AMA's view, any inquiries concerning the contents of medical records or attempts to gain access to records or results of investigations by doctors or other health care professionals not involved in the treatment of the patients concerned are always inappropriate and reprehensible.

2.3 Accordingly, the AMA considers that doctors and other health care professionals should not seek to obtain results of investigations performed on any persons other than patients of theirs or their hospitals', in whose treatment the doctor or other health care professional is legitimately involved, except where the person has given express consent.

2.4 This proviso should permit adequate and appropriate access to relevant contents of medical records for medical referees, occupational physicians and researchers reviewing records in accordance with protocols approved by ethics committees.