Ask Dr. M: How do I get copies of my health records?

Question: I’d like to get my health records so I can view my lab results and know for sure when I had certain appointments and what treatments my doctor prescribed. How do I access these?

First, congratulations! You’re about to take a really important step towards having a better understanding of your health, and becoming a more active, engaged patient.

Second, this is a great question, because in Canada there are a couple of ways you can get access to your health records:

Visit your provider

To get paper copies of your health records, contact your health provider(s) directly and request access to your personal health information. They may ask you to submit your request in writing, or fill out a form called a Request to Access Personal Health Information Form. Your provider then has between 30 and 60 days to respond to your request. Usually you have to pay for this information, with the average cost being $30 for the first 20 pages of your records, then an additional charge per page thereafter.

Download Dot Health

If you’re a Canadian resident looking for health records from providers within Canada, you’re in luck! Try downloading Dot Health. We strongly feel this is the most convenient way to access all of your health records, no matter where they’re from. With Dot Health, your records are digital, meaning you can say goodbye to stacks of disorganized papers, and you can also email them securely to whomever you trust, like your specialist, family member, or new family doctor.

What do I do if my doctor won’t release my records?

Unfortunately, sometimes providers are reluctant to release records. Usually it’s for security reasons — they want to verify that it’s their patient making the request. In this case, we at Dot Health do everything in our power to convince them that we follow industry-leading security standards, and that releasing this information is in their patient’s best interest. If they still refuse, you may have to visit them and provide your signature in-person.

Even if you visit your provider in person, they may still refuse your request if:

  • Your personal health information is subject to a legal privilege.
  • Access to your personal health information could reasonably be expected to result in a risk of serious harm to your treatment or recovery or serious bodily harm to you or another person.
  • Your personal health information was collected as part of an inspection, investigation or similar procedure and the resulting proceedings, appeals or processes have not yet been concluded.
  • Your healthcare is managed by someone else.
  • Another law prohibits the disclosure of your personal health information.

If the doctor you’re requesting information from has retired, moved, or died, or you haven’t visited them in more than seven years, your records may have been sent to an archival service, making them more difficult (and expensive) to access.

Because health care in Canada is largely regulated at the provincial level, each province has its own regulations. Most laws are similar in terms of access policies and request timelines, and you can find your province’s guidelines here.

No matter what, your provider is required to explain to you why they may deny your record request. If you’re experiencing what feels like an unreasonable refusal to release your health information, you have the right to file a complaint with your province’s overseeing body — find yours here.

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