Medical Records: When Access Can Be Refused

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Health care institutions sometimes refuse to let patients see their medical records. This article explains the reasons for refusals when patients ask for information, and when parents want to see the medical records of a child under 18 years old.

Patients Who Want Access 

As a general rule, patients 14 years or older are allowed to see their medical records. But access can be refused in some cases:

  • when access can cause serious harm to the patient
  • when the medical records have information that can seriously harm another person

Serious Harm to Patient

Patients will not be allowed to see all or part of their medical records if the doctor thinks reading the information could seriously harm them.    

For example, doctors will refuse to let psychiatric patients see their medical records if having access to this information could lead to a serious risk of suicide.

But this refusal is temporary: institutions must notify patients as soon as they can see their records, that is, when the risk of harm is lower. 

Information Coming From or About Other People

Medical records sometimes contain information about other people. For example, a psychologist may write notes in a teenager's file about information the mother provided. 

Patients only have access to information about themselves and not information that concerns other people.

Also, in these two cases, patients will not be allowed to see information other people provided:

  • The information identifies the other person.

AND

  • The other person has not given written permission for the patient to learn the person's name and read the information.

This rule does not apply to information provided by health care professionals (for example, doctors, psychiatrists, interns or residents) or by employees of a health care institution as they carry out their duties. In these situations, patients always have access to the information.

IMPORTANT: In an emergency that endangers the life, health or safety of a patient, information another person provides can be given to the patient without the permission of the other person.

 

Parents of a Child Under 18

In most cases, parents have the right to consult their children's medical records. But there are circumstances where access can be refused. The reasons for refusal depend on the child's age.

Child Under 14

Parents are not allowed to see their child's medical records in these situations: 

  • The child was involved in an intervention under the Youth Protection Act.

AND  

  • The health care institution has decided it could be harmful to the child if the parents see the medical records. The institution contacts the Director of Youth Protection when making this decision. 

Child Who Died Before 14

Parents have access to their child's medical records if the child died before the age of 14, EXCEPT for any psychological or social information.

Child 14 or Older

Parents are not allowed to access their child's medical records in these cases:

  • The child does not want the parents to consult the records.

AND

  • The health care institution has decided it could be harmful to the child if the parents see the information.

In other words, if letting the parents see the medical records will not worsen the child's state of health, the child's refusal will be ignored, and the parents will be allowed to see the records. 

Child 18 or Older

Lastly, parents no longer have the right to consult their children's medical records after they turn 18.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.