Medical records and other privacy issues

Health professionals will collect a lot of information about your health and the treatment you receive. A medical record contains personal information, so it’s important to know who can see it, change it and copy it. This section covers your rights in relation to your medical records and other privacy issues, such as talking about sensitive matters with health professionals.

It’s important to note that your rights may vary depending on which state or territory you live in. For specific information, contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, talk to your treatment team, or seek independent legal advice.

Learn more about:


Listen to our podcast on Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis


Medical records

When you are treated for a medical condition, either in or out of hospital, the person treating you creates notes about your health. This is called a medical record. It can be handwritten or electronic.

What does a medical record include? 

  • services provided
  • scans, tests and the interpretations of results
  • recommendations about treatments
  • personal details (e.g. genetic information)
  • correspondence to health professionals.

Every treatment centre you attend will keep a medical record about you, and they will add to that record each time you visit or have tests.

Who owns my medical records?

The treatment centre or health professional who creates a medical record owns and maintains the record.

Australian law considers ownership and access as separate – so although you don’t own the medical record, you can request access to it.

Different states and territories may have different requirements about how long doctors and treatment centres must keep your records after your last consultation.

Who can access my medical records?

Australian privacy standard establish a general rule that organisations are required to provide you with access to personal information (such as medical records) held about you.

This standard has been developed because giving people access to their medical records:

  • allows them to better understand their condition and treatment
  • can help ensure the information is accurate
  • may make people feel more confident about the health care system.

You can authorise someone else to see your medical records, such as a relative, interpreter or another health professional.

Your records may also be provided to the health ombudsman if you make a complaint about your health care. 

How can I access my medical records?

If you would like to see your medical records, ask your health care provider (e.g. GP, specialist, hospital or treatment centre) for access.

You may have to put the request in writing and provide proof of identity, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate.

There is no set time limit for a health care provider to meet a request for medical records. However, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner recommends that a request should be processed within 30 days.

The health care provider may charge a fee to copy your record (public hospitals usually charge about $30), but there shouldn’t be a fee to just look at the record.

Why might access be denied?

Rarely, you won’t be allowed to have a copy of your medical records because:

  • another law requires your information to be kept private (e.g. if the information relates to legal proceedings)
  • there’s a risk that the information could harm you or someone else, such as a relative, treatment staff or other patients.

Who can change my medical records?

You can ask for changes to your medical records if you think the records are inaccurate, irrelevant or misleading. You should make this request in writing.

If a treatment centre refuses to change your medical record because they think it is correct as it is or that your suggested changes are not appropriate, it must provide a written explanation for the decision.

If you disagree with the decision, you can make a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner or to the health ombudsman or complaints commission in your state or territory.


Other privacy issues

When you are having treatment, you have a right to privacy and confidentiality. Some privacy issues that may affect you include:

  • If you’re being treated in a public hospital, you have the right to talk to your doctor in a quiet, private room. You can also decide who should be included in the meeting.
  • You can decline visitors, even during hospital visiting hours.
  • In some treatment centres, trainee doctors and medical students observe consultations and are involved in cancer care under the supervision of a specialist. You should be informed if they will be involved, and you are entitled to refuse or limit their involvement.
  • You can ask your doctor or treatment centre to mail information to you in unmarked envelopes.

If you’re concerned about your privacy, talk to your treatment team or hospital social worker.


Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Cancer Care and Your Rights


Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in April 2016
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans

Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads

Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends

SHARE
TOP BACK TO TOP