What is health information?
In NSW, health providers, such as hospitals and medical practitioners, collect information about you so that they can provide treatment and care for you. This may include the information you give, as well as information from other health providers (for example, diagnoses, test results, x-ray reports, pathology reports) and sometimes information from family members, friends or carers.
All together, this information is known as your medical record or health information. It may also be called a clinical record, health care record, medical file, or patient file.
Health information may be paper-based (written notes) or electronically recorded (on a computer).
Please note that records are usually a summary of what happened – not every single conversation or activity is documented.
How is my health information kept?
Health records must be stored safely. Usually, they are stored in the clinical information department of a public hospital, or on-site in a private practice. Sometimes, the information is stored off-site in special archives.
The information is generally kept for seven years from the date of the last visit or consultation – after that it may be destroyed. Only a child’s health information must be kept until they are 25 years old.
Can I have my health information?
You are entitled to request access to your personal health information. Although this information is about you, the original belongs to the health professional, health service, or medical centre where it was created.
A request to access your health records is usually required to be in writing. Not all health providers require this, but it is a good idea to have a written record (keep a copy for your own records). You will need to provide identification, and pay a fee if you are requesting a copy. More tips on how to access your records follow below.
Access can be declined in some circumstances, such as where giving access would put you or another person at risk. In this case, the health provider should give reasons for their refusal and let you know which records have not been given.
Who else can have access to my health information?
Your health information is confidential. It can generally only be seen by you and the relevant health services staff involved in your care. Sometimes, information can be provided to other people who are involved in your treatment or ongoing care (for example, when you are referred to a specialist); or to comply with State and Commonwealth laws (for example, subpoenas; and reporting births, deaths and notifiable diseases).
An immediate family member may be able to access the health information of a person who has died, or is physically or legally incapable of giving consent.
Can I change inaccurate information in my health information?
If you believe the information in the record is incorrect or an error has been made, you can request that it be corrected. If the health provider does not agree with you, you can request that a statement be added to your file detailing your view about the information and its accuracy.
The Health Care Complaints Commission does not have the power to alter your medical records.
How do I request access to my health information?
Accessing your health information will require different actions depending on who provides the service – a health practitioner, a public or private hospital, or a nursing home.
Access to the information can be provided in different ways - looking at the record, asking for a copy, or having the information sent to a new hospital, doctor or health service. Say whether you need someone to help you understand the contents.
It is a good idea to ring up or visit to ask:
- Is there an application form?
- What proof of identity is required?
- What are the fees? Are there any concessions on the fees (for example as a student, or pensioner)?
- How long will it take for the application to be processed?
- Is someone available to assist in reading or interpreting the records, and is there a fee for this?
Follow up with a written request (and keep a copy).
Things to include:
- Your full name (include any name changes), date of birth and present address.
- If you have moved since your health records were compiled, include alternative addresses.
- Give the approximate dates your health information was compiled. For example, if you want records made when you were in hospital, give the dates you entered and left hospital.
- Details of the health information you want. You may need to discuss this with your health provider or doctor, as you may not need or want all the records.
- If you are the next of kin or an administrator of a will, you need to provide documentation to prove that you are eligible to act on behalf of a person.
If you are having difficulty in accessing your health information
If you have questions or a complaint about your health information held by a private health provider, you may be able to resolve the matter by contacting the manager of the practice or hospital.
If your concerns relate to a public health service, you can contact your Local Health District office to speak to the Privacy Contact Officer. Contact details of all Local Health Districts can be found on the NSW Ministry of Health's website.
More information or making a complaint
This information is a summary of your personal health information. For more details refer to the NSW Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002. You can obtain further information from the Information and Privacy Commission or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). You may also make a complaint to either organisation.
The Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) is an independent statutory authority, established on 1 January 2011, and comprises the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
Phone: 1800 472 679
Postal address: GPO Box 7011, Sydney NSW 2001
Office address: Level 11, 1 Castlereagh Street, Sydney
Office hours: 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday
The Office of the Australian Information Commission is Australia's federal regulatory agency for freedom of information and privacy and has a role in government information policy issues.
Telephone: 1300 363 992