Medical records contain many vital pieces of information about your medical history. They contain accounts of your symptoms, diagnoses, test results and treatments. Just like a family history, a patient’s records provide information about where they are coming from and where they are going. For this reason, this article outlines how to obtain your medical records and also, what to do if you doctor retires or dies and you are stranded without them.
Perhaps you live in a rural area where there are no doctors, let alone specialists. Maybe you recently moved to Montreal, Quebec, where it is notoriously difficult to get a family doctor; or else, you have been embracing alternative medicine and have now realized that your condition has worsened and you need to see a medical doctor again. Whatever the case may be, it is likely that you are facing the same issue many Canadians are facing: an incomplete medical history.
Ask yourself, “Where did I last see my doctor?” This is because there is a College of Physicians and Surgeons for each province (the operating body that oversees licensing, ethics and disciplinary action for medical doctors), and each province has a different standards. For example, if you last saw your doctor in Calgary, Alberta, then you would need to contact the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
Contact your province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and find out how long doctors need to keep medical records in your province. A simple Google search for ‘College of Physicians and Surgeons of ’ should yield a toll-free number where you can call for more information about standards for record keeping in the province where you last saw your doctor. In Ontario for example, the record keeping standard is ten years from when you last saw your doctor. If the record keeping standard is within the period where you last saw your doctor, continue reading. Otherwise, it will be unlikely you will be successful.
Contact your doctor: doing an online search for a current telephone number is a good idea. Good websites include the official directory of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of your province, online telephone directories and ratemds.com. If a current office exists, you should call and request a copy of your medical records. Often, doctor’s offices do not allow you to leave a message, so several phone calls may be necessary before you speak to an actual person on the other line. This may not apply if you know that your doctor has retired or died since you last were seen.
Contact your doctor in writing. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario suggests that you contact your doctor by mail at their last known address and wait four to six weeks for a response. You should include your name, Medicare number (on your provincially issued health card), telephone number and address. You may send the letter by registered mail to be able to prove that the other party received the letter.
If no response is received after the appropriate period, the College of Physicians and Surgeons will take the case to the Superior Court of Justice and petition for access to the doctor’s executor of estate. Once a doctor dies, the executor of a doctor’s estate is responsible for maintaining the records for the required period. If the petition is successful, the Court will reveal the name of the executor. With the name of the executor, the patient will then need to send a letter to the executor requesting a copy of their medical records. This can often be done by contacting the Superior Court of the province that the doctor last resided in and selecting ‘Civil Proceedings’ followed by ‘Estate’ through the general enquiry line.
The process of obtaining your medical records may be lengthy. The road may be difficult, but for the determined, the benefits may be worthwhile.