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Are mental health records confidential?

Mental health records are a sensitive issue for most people. On the surface, yes, mental health records that have information on a person’s mental disabilities are confidential.

There is legislation in every single province and territory that regulates how these records are to be treated, given they contain private and sensitive information. Though provinces often differ in how they write laws, usually the laws are quite similar and requirements are also similar especially when it comes to privacy regulations of health/mental health records.

However, there are limited circumstances in which this information can be accessed but it must be in accordance with the legislation, which regulates access to mental health records. There are strict regulations as to how information is collected, when it can be accessed, and how it must be stored.

There is also a legal obligation, for all places, such as doctor’s offices and hospitals, which collect and/or store this data to protect it against theft and unauthorized access. Should information be disclosed that wasn’t allowed to be, then these places can be fined, and lawsuits could ensue.

Healthcare providers also have strict rules about keeping records accurate and up-to-date. They must do everything reasonably possible to protect this information. If information is lost or stolen the healthcare provider has to let the patient know.

Usually access is refused to anyone not in the healthcare field, unless you have given permission or it is legally required.

Who can collect and store such information?

Due to the sensitive nature of such information, there are very few places that are allowed to collect and store this information. Among them are:

  • Doctor’s offices;
  • Hospitals;
  • Mental health clinics.

Can the information be accessed?

Disclosure of information relating to your mental health records can only be done if you give permission, or if someone you have legally authorized to act on your behalf gives permission.

However, there are situations in which your permission is not needed in order to access this information but it’s in a very limited capacity. Such situations may include:

  • If it is being used for the purpose for which it was collected and/or created;
  • In emergency situations;
  • For a purpose for which a health care provider is permitted or required by law to disclose it to another health care providers;
  • For planning or delivering programs or services that the health care provider provides or funds;
  • If a court order has been issued by the court;
  • If allowed or required by law;
  • For the purpose of disposing of the information or modifying the information to conceal the identity of the individual;
  • For the purpose of obtaining payment for health care or related goods and services;
  • For the purpose of research, subject to certain conditions.

Something to keep in mind is that consent can be implied if information is used between healthcare providers in order to treat the patient. However, consent is almost always needed when information is being disclosed to a group or person that is not in the healthcare field.

You have to remember even the people that are allowed to access the information have restrictions imposed on them. Usually organizations or institutes who store and may analyze such data are held to a high privacy standard.

If you are concerned about your mental health records, you may want to speak to a healthcare lawyer.

Read More:

Confidentiality of Psychiatric Records and the Patient’s Right to Privacy

Medical Records: Who Can Have Access Quebec