Accessing your health records

Patients might take ownership of their health, but who owns their health records? Your health history shouldn’t be a mystery, according to the regulatory colleges. “The physical record is property of a health care provider, who is legally required to keep a copy, but in most cases you have the right to access the information within it,” says Jo-Ann Willson, president of the Federation of Health Regulatory Colleges of Ontario (FHRCO).

While originals stay with the provider, copies of a medical record must be provided to you upon request. Providers may charge a reasonable fee to reflect the cost of materials and forwarding them, and the time required to prepare them. You also have a right to get a copy of your hospital health records (usually through a written request to the health records department). Again, fees may be charged.

Why get hold of your records? Common reasons include:

• You’re switching care providers and need to forward the information.

• You want your records available whenever you need them, or want the time to read and understand them privately.

• You would like to consolidate the records of your providers/facilities into a single record.

• You’re concerned about your care.

• You want to check or confirm the accuracy of the information.

• You want to provide your health details to other family members.

• You’re involved in or considering some type of legal proceeding around your care.

• The record is a prescription that you want filled by a different health care provider.

Whatever the reason, you do not have to explain why you want the record; the duty is on the health care provider or institution to pass it along in a timely manner, says FHRCO’s Willson.

FHRCO comprises Ontario’s 26 health regulatory colleges, which govern over 260,000 health professionals ( The colleges hold members accountable for their conduct and practice and support your right to safe, competent and ethical health care. Accessing your records is one of your rights as a consumer.

“Not only are you entitled to access your records in most situations, but getting a copy can be an important part of managing your health,” says Willson.

In Ontario, the Personal Health Information Privacy Act covers the collection, use and disclosure of health records. For more on accessing records, see the website of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, or call the IPC at 416-326-3333 or 1-800-387-0073.

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