Australian legislation provides patients with the right to request access to health information held by health service providers that pertain to them. Patients or patients’ authorised representatives, such as a legal guardian, can request access to health information, which usually is made in writing. The information that is required includes patient’s name, address, specific health information, and mode of access (i.e. electronic or hard copy). According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), health service providers should respond to request for access to health information within a reasonable period, which is generally 30 days.
Health service providers may choose not to provide health information in some situations, such as if it may threaten someone’s life, health or safety, or intrude on someone’s privacy, or it is illegal. They could omit the part that is not directly related to the patient and provide the rest of the information. If it is not possible to give information directly to patients due to concerns for their health or safety, then a third party may be granted access. However, there are avenues for patients to complain about refusal of access to health information. It is worth bearing in mind that there may be a fee charged by health service providers to access health information, however it cannot be excessive. This fee may include staff searching for the relevant information and the cost of postage.