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Communtity Law Manual | Disability rights | Privacy and your health information

Health and disability services: Your rights and how to enforce them

Privacy and your health information

Health professionals have to follow the rules in the Health Information Privacy Code 1994 dealing with how they collect your information and when they can release it to other people. This Privacy Code also specifically protects your rights to have access to your own health information.

The Health Information Privacy Code overlaps with the privacy rights contained in the Privacy Act 1993.

Rules about collecting health information

Health Information Privacy Code 1994, clause 5, rules 1–4

Health professionals must collect health information directly from the you, not from other people.

Further, they can’t collect information in ways that are unfair or that intrude unreasonably into your personal affairs. For example, health information shouldn’t be collected in a waiting room where other people might overhear.

Rules about releasing information to others

Health Information Privacy Code 1994, clause 5, rule 11

In general, health professionals can’t give your health information to anyone else.

However, there are some exceptions. Health professionals can give your information to others if:

  • a specific law requires the health professional to release your information (for example, if there’s a risk to someone’s safety, or for statistical purposes)
  • they are discussing your care professionally with other doctors or medical staff as appropriate (in this case, the other staff must keep the information confidential)
  • it’s necessary to avoid a serious and imminent danger to you or someone else, and if it isn’t desirable or practicable to get your consent. In this case, health professionals can only give the information to people who can do something about the threat.

Right to access medical files

Health Information Privacy Code 1994, clause 5, rule 6

You have the right to see your personal medical records at any time and to get a copy of these records. You can be refused access to your records only in limited situations. For example:

  • if the information held also involves information about someone else, and releasing the information to you would be an unjustified breach of the other person’s privacy, or
  • if giving the information would be likely to endanger any person’s safety.

Can I be charged a fee for getting copies of health information?

Health Information Privacy Code 1994, clause 6

Health professionals in the public sector can’t charge you for giving you your own health information.

Health professionals in the private sector usually can’t charge, but they can charge a reasonable fee in the following two situations:

  • for copies of X-rays, video recordings, MRI scan photographs, PET scan photographs, or CAT scan photographs, or
  • if you’ve already asked for the same, or substantially the same, information in the last 12 months.

How do I complain about a breach of the Health Information Privacy Code?

Health Information Privacy Code 1994, clause 7

You can complain about a breach of the Health Information Privacy Code to the particular health professional or organisation. Then, if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner, in the same way as breaches of the Privacy Act. (For information about complaining to the Privacy Commissioner, see the chapter “Privacy and information“.)

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