Legislation varies across the states. Generally patients have a right under Commonwealth or State/Territory legislation to request access to their health records, or can authorise others to receive them on their behalf (for example, lawyers, and insurance companies).
Requests for access to medical records should be done in writing and signed and dated by the patient.
There are limited circumstances when health records can be withheld from patients e.g. disclosure would cause a serious threat to the health or safety of a patient or third party.
If you are unsure about whether and what to disclose you should contact the Medico-legal Advisory Service.
You are usually entitled to receive reasonable expenses to produce documents, to cover the administrative costs of copying the documents.
If you receive a request in the form of a subpoena to produce documents to a court or tribunal do not ignore it – it is a legal document.
A patient’s consent is not required to respond to a subpoena. The patient (or their solicitor) will normally receive a copy of the subpoena if they are involved in legal proceedings. If the health records are particularly sensitive, consider letting the patient know you have received a subpoena to produce them.
The documents must be produced to the court or tribunal by the date specified on the subpoena.
Only send copies of documents not the original health records. Check with the Medico-legal Advisory Service if you are uncertain about what to send. Call 1800 128 268.
Generally if the police request records – for a criminal investigation or on behalf of a coroner, they should provide an authority from the patient, a court order or a warrant.
In some cases information can be given to the police without an order/warrant or the consent of the patient or relatives.
All health information, including correspondence from other health professionals, such as specialists’ letters, form part of the health record.