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Who can access your health records?

Health records are provincially/territorially regulated and information about who may access your health records goes through provincial government agencies.

Health records are collected and stored by hospitals and doctors that hold the history of a patient’s health.

It’s important to know that medical records don’t actually belong to the patient. Rather, they belong to the doctor or hospitals which keep them. However, while the records themselves don’t belong to the patient, the information contained in the records does.

Therefore, you have to give consent before someone else can access health records.

Many records are now kept electronically, often called Electronic Health Records, accessible by many health professionals.

Doctors and hospitals have an obligation, both legal and ethical, to keep your health records confidential. They are not allowed to share them with just anybody.

However, there are exceptions to the confidentiality rules. For example, if there is an emergency and your health records have to be accessed in order to save your life or if a court orders the records are released.

Many provinces and territories have personal information protection acts, which inform doctors and hospitals what their confidentiality obligations are and under what limited circumstances your health information can be released.

Can I access my own health records?

As it is your information in those records, yes you can see them and anyone to whom you give permission to access your records.

The only time access to your health records may be refused to you is in these circumstances:

  • If the access to your health records could cause you serious harm; and/or
  • If it could cause someone else serious harm.

In what circumstances do I need to give permission for my health records to be accessed?

As stated before, every province/territory has their own laws in regards to the regulation of health records. Generally, the circumstances under which information can or should be released are similar:

  • Other people who give you medical care, such as specialists, will need your medical records.
  • If you’re in a lawsuit about your medical history, your lawyer will need your medical records. Usually, doctors and hospitals will copy your medical records to your lawyer if you ask them to.
  • If you apply for life or health insurance, the insurance company will often need your medical records before giving you insurance.
  • Some types of jobs may require medical information. However, potential employers can get your records only if you agree to let them see the records.

When can my health records be accessed without my permission?

Every province/territory has their own rules, but in general they’re not that different.

The circumstances in which your health records can be accessed without your permission are:

  • To prevent an act of violence, including suicide, when there is a risk of serious injury or death to the patient or another person or group of people that can be identified;
  • In an emergency endangering the patient's life, health or safety;
  • For study, teaching or research purposes – however, there are restrictions on what information can be used and confidentiality rules must be respected;
  • If a patient is transferred – in order for you to get proper treatment the institution that is accepting you for care needs to know your medical history;
  • Following an order of a court or a coroner;
  • If you are a minor, then your parents can access your medical records, with certain exceptions.

If you need more information about your health records, you should consult a healthcare lawyer.

Read more:

Medical Records: Who Can Have Access Quebec

Getting Your Medical Records