Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Getting the view from the other side - How do you get copies of your medical records?

In previous blog posts I shared my diagnosis story.

I had some gaps in my memory and I didn't understand how my diagnosis from type 1 diabetes on admission changed to type 2 diabetes on discharge.

I thought it would be interesting to find out if I could obtain information and gain answers to my questions by requesting all of the records detailing my stay in hospital.

Requesting access - challenge accepted!

Requesting copies of your medical files is a fairly straightforward process... once you know how to do it!
My stay in 2011 was at Doncaster Royal Infirmary and if you want to see how hard it is to find out the process, I suggest you spend a few minutes now trying to find details of the process from their website.

To make it easier I will give you a head start. This is the website for Doncaster Royal Infirmary and there is a lot of information detailing (for example) how Freedom of Information requests are dealt with. If you are interested in details around FoI requests you can find that here: Doncaster Royal Infirmary FoI request information.

When you have given up trying, please come back here and I'll share with you a secret :)

Gaining access to your records is not done via a Freedom of Information request.
To gain access to your records you need to send in what is known as an "application for subject access to health records", which for living individuals is covered under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Now that you know the mechanism for requesting medical records, you might want to try again to find details of the process on their website. Any joy? No? Me neither!

I still don't know how you obtain this information from their website without resorting to Mr Google. Mr Google is a friend of mine and helped me find this link to a document on their website: Processing Requests for Access to Health Records Procedure.
It was from this document that I worked out my first step was to fill in the form provided in appendix A and send it in to the Health Records Manager at the hospital.

You might want to see how easy your own hospital makes it to understand the process you would follow to obtain copies to your own records and share your successes and/or frustrations here.

Interesting Discoveries

Reading the documentation I found some interesting facts:
  1. They can charge a fee of up to £50 to obtain copies of your medical notes and they can take up to 40 days from receipt of payment to provide them.
  2. If you only want to view them at the hospital and you don't want or need your own copies, you can do so for £10.
  3. If the Department of Work and Pensions ask for copies of your medical notes, they will be provided with them for free and within 10 working days of receiving the request!
  4. Your request will be logged in your case notes: "ensure that a record is made in the health record that subject access has been allowed / limited to relevant sections of the notes. Hospital casenotes will be stamped on the front inside cover to indicate the date and scope of access".
  5. and you might not get everything you requested if they judge it "might cause serious harm to the physical or mental health of the patient or any other individual, or where a third party might be identified." There is also no requirement for them to disclose that information is being withheld.

My Request

I rang up the department before filling in the form to double check I was doing the right thing and they were very helpful. They confirmed the process (and the fees!) and pointed out it would be much cheaper (£10) should I wish to review my records with a HCP at the hospital (who would be able to explain the records to me).

I wanted my own copies, so I filled in the form and sent it by first class post and then waited for a response.

I received a letter (within the timeframe allowed) telling me that it would cost £26.25 to obtain copies of my records and that I could pay by sending them a cheque or by card or cash if I paid in person at the cashiers office. I decided to ring up and see if I could pay by card over the telephone and it turned out that I could.

They said they would transfer me to the cashiers office and then check 15 minutes later to see if payment had been made. If it had, they would send the notes out to me by 1st class post.

The following day I had my hospital notes!
  • Did they answer my questions?
    No and possibily created more questions than answers.
  • Did they help me remember certain things?
    Yes they did.
  • Did I learn anything new?
    Most definitely!

In my next post I'll show you some of the things I learnt and some of those observations "from the other side".