Seniors: Who owns your medical records?

  • Feb. 22, 2019 3:34 p.m.

Have you ever been asked to fill in authorization forms or pay transfer fees to send your medical files to a specialist or another physician? If you say yes, then clearly, you do not own your medical records. Neither does your doctor, even though in the olden days they did. Who ultimately owns it now and who should?

85% of family physicians use electronic medical records. Your medical information stored in those records are owned by medical institutions and the electronic medical record providing companies. The truth is most patients in Canada do not have access to their own medical records and do not know what the owners are doing with their supposedly confidential records.

Ideally, this should not be the case. A 1993 Supreme Court of Canada decision made it clear that the information in the medical record belongs to the patient, by stating “Patients have a right to see the content of their record at any time and for any reasons”.

Since the accuracy of your medical information matters most to you, your records should belong to you and you should have access to them at any time, from anywhere in the world. The good news is that some physicians have also started thinking the same, finally.

It is high time that this move has happened because specialists/clinicians who are asked to see patients referred by family physicians have always struggled to get complete, accurate, and up-to-date medical data about these new patients, and often in vain.

The situation becomes more challenging when the patients are unable to provide accurate information about their medical conditions and treatments.

This has been shown to result in retesting, prescription errors, sub-standard patient care, and increased overall costs for the healthcare system – all easily avoidable by providing us access to our own medical records.

Our individual health benefits if we have access to our medical records. We can update our medication list, and inform our physicians or nurse practitioners if we notice any errors in our records.

If we are living with a condition that needs continuing treatment such as high blood pressure/ high cholesterol, or diabetes, we can monitor the readings and lab results and follow medication schedule strictly to control these values. This not only increases our participation in our own health, and enhances the patient-physician partnership, but also ensures that accurate information is shared with other healthcare professionals involved in our care.

Some efforts have been ongoing to make patient information securely available to multiple medical practitioners, in Quebec and Ontario. Private laboratories have started offering patients in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan direct access to their lab results.

In Alberta, Alberta Netcare enables facilities to submit key health information to develop an integrated patient record that is accessible to registered physicians. Arguably more needs to be done to provide us easy and secure access to our medical records across Canada.

Sweden has taken the lead in offering its citizens universal access to their medical records, while ensuring consumer satisfaction. All Swedish hospitals, primary care centres and psychiatric centres use electronic medical records. Citizens can log in to see notes from their physicians, test results, medication lists, and also a log of everyone who has accessed their medical records.

Several potential barriers to implementing patient access at many levels have been pointed out by experts. Family doctors may have concerns about the impact of this move on their workload. The evidence in this regard has been conflicting.

Federal and provincial governments will have to fund electronic medical record providers to develop, integrate and maintain patient access/portals. Some of us might have concerns about technology use, and whether the reports will be easy for us to understand.

We might also have concerns about the security of patient-controlled portals, about what information would be provided and who all will have access to it. The truth is these concerns are valid even now, but many of us may not be aware of them.

The group of physicians behind this commendable move are pushing Canada’s provincial governments to be committed to expanding health information accessibility to citizens to promote patient empowerment. However, simultaneous installation of safeguards to return control of medical data to patients and their doctors is critical, in order to prevent extraction of confidential data by other parties.

Padmaja Genesh, who holds a bachelor degree in medicine and surgery as well as a bachelor degree in Gerontology, has spent several years teaching and working with health care agencies. A past resident of Red Deer, and a past board member of Red Deer Golden Circle, she is now a Learning Specialist at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. Please send your comments to

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