Access to medical records
Individual patients may be entitled to get access to their medical records in a number of different ways:
- By routine and administrative access to Health Service Executive (HSE) records
- Under the Data Protection Acts
- Under the Freedom of Information Act
- By discovery, in the course of court proceedings
- On the basis of a contract between the patient and the medical practitioner or hospital
The five ways listed above apply to patients of the public system: patients in public or publicly-funded hospitals, as well as medical card or GP visit card holders for GP services. If you visit your GP as a private patient or attend a private (non-HSE funded) hospital, you can only get access through Data Protection, by virtue of your contract with the medical service, or by court order.
The HSE provides a list of public hospitals.
Residents in both public and private nursing homes who are funded by the Nursing Home Support Scheme or other HSE subvention may get access to their medical records.
Confidentiality and disclosure
Doctors and other medical personnel and health institutions have a duty to maintain patients' records in confidence but there are some circumstances in which they may be obliged to give this information to third parties.
Their ethical duty with regard to confidentiality is set out in the Medical Council guidelines Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners.
There are some circumstances in which a health professional (or hospital) may disclose confidential medical records to others – for example, if the patient consents to such disclosure or when it is required by a court. It seems that it may also be ethical to disclose medical records if it would be in the patient's best interests or, if necessary, to protect another person or society generally. There are certain legal requirements to disclose information, for example, in relation to infectious diseases. Doctors are obliged to report incidences of specified infectious diseases to the HSE and the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
The confidentiality of personal information such as medical records is protected by both the Data Protection Acts and the Freedom of Information Act. Under these Acts, third parties may not get access to personal information except under exceptional circumstances. These third parties would be parents/guardians and personal representatives.
Administrative access to HSE records
Generally, access to your own health records should be provided administratively, having regard to privacy, confidentiality and the public interest.
Apply in writing to the appropriate service or agency (for example, for hospital records apply to the hospital manager). You should provide sufficient information to help in locating your files, including your date of birth, current and previous addresses, the contacts you had with specific services and approximate dates.
You may also be asked for proof of identity, for example providing a copy of your current passport or driver’s license. This is in order to protect your confidentiality.
There will usually be no charge for copies of personal records. However, the
health agency has the right to charge, for example, if the quantity of records
is very large. (See table of charges below).
If access to a record or to information cannot be provided to you directly under administrative access, you will be informed of this and advised of the option of making an application under the Freedom of Information Act. Likewise, certain information may be of such a sensitive nature that requests for access can only be dealt with under the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.
Examples of this type of sensitive information would include, a deceased person's health record, documents relating to suspected child abuse, documents revealing the involvement and deliberations of an investigation into alleged sexual abuse, or documents relating to testing for HIV/ Aids.
|Photocopying fee*||4 cent per page|
|Per copy x-ray||€6.35|
|Per copy floppy disk||51 cent|
* Photocopying charges will only be levied where there are a large number of
Data protection and freedom of information
The data protection legislation requires that data held must be accurate and up to date. Under the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003, you are entitled to find out if there is information about you held on record, to access those records and to have them corrected if they are inaccurate. This is the case no matter who holds the record – it could be held by a doctor or other medical professional, or by a hospital or other institution, or by the HSE or by anyone else. The holder of the data has a duty to disclose and correct.
There is a limited exception to this duty to disclose your records to you where doing so is likely to cause serious harm to your physical or mental health or emotional condition.
Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act 2014 provides for, among other things, individual right of access to personal records held by public bodies unless they are specifically exempt. Medical records are personal records. The FOI Act applies to the HSE and to voluntary hospitals as well as to a number of health agencies. It does not apply to private hospitals. It applies to records held by GPs in relation to patients who are medical card holders. It does not apply to the records of private patients.
If you want to access records under the FOI Act, you should apply to the public body that holds them (the HSE is considered to hold the records of medical card holders).
There is a particular procedure that must be followed for medical information if the head of the public body is of the opinion that its disclosure to you may be prejudicial to your health or emotional well being. In these circumstances, if you ask them to do so, the public body must instead release the record to an appropriate health professional nominated by you.
FOI requests should be addressed to the FOI Unit of the public body or office holding the records.
Access to the records of a child or incapable person
In general, for personal information the FOI Act gives the person that the information is about the right to access it.
There is a procedure whereby parents or guardians can access personal information about a minor. The Act also allows parents/guardians to access personal information about an adult who is incapable of exercising their rights under the Act because of mental incapacity or severe physical disability.
The access in both cases will only be granted if the head of the public body concerned considers it would be in the best interests of the person concerned.
Access to a deceased person's records
In the case of a deceased person, access to the personal information may be granted:
- To the personal representative who is administering the estate of the deceased
- To a person who is performing some legal function in relation to the individual or the estate of the individual
- To the spouse (including a divorced spouse or cohabitee) or next of kin or such other person as the head of the public body considers appropriate
Disputes about access to records under the FOI Act should be addressed to the Office of the Information Commissioner.
Patients and others may access medical records for the purpose of court cases if they get a court order of discovery. The court may order a hospital or doctor to disclose or discover documents or medical records to a plaintiff's advisers where those documents are considered relevant to the issues involved in the court proceedings.
Where to apply
Health Service Executive
Opening Hours:Monday to Saturday, 8am-8pm
Tel:(041) 685 0300
Locall:Call Save 1850 24 1850