Our information, their files; Why do Ontario residents have to pay exorbitant fees to access their own medical records?



 Late in 2013, several Ontario MPPs spoke about the need to pass a regulation to protect Ontario residents from having to pay exorbitant fees to access their own medical records.

Yet here we are in April, 2014 and the problem hasn’t been fixed.

Worse, the Ontario Liberal government has known about this problem since at least 2006, when a regulation limiting fees was proposed but never proclaimed as law.

In 2008, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian publicly asked the government to regulate fees patients were charged to obtain copies of their health records.

In 2010, Liberal MPP David Caplan, a former Ontario health minister, put forward a private member’s bill on this issue.

But apparently our provincial government is too busy to deal with such a small problem.

After all, who really cares what we have to pay to obtain a copy of our own medical files?

Well, just wait until one of your doctors retires and you have to pay $200 to have your file retrieved.

Or wait until you need some records for a personal injury case and have to pay $120 for nine pages of notes, or $350 for six pages.

How about $500 for a five-page printout of notes, or $100 for a three-page page summary of prescriptions from your pharmacist?

These are just a few of the examples provided by Liberal MPP Bob Delaney at Queen’s Park in late 2013 when he demonstrated the need for a regulatory remedy.

The numbers are all over the place because there’s no law governing what custodians of medical information can charge.

Many take advantage of this regulatory gap to gouge patients or customers.

Usually, the medical records are sought by a lawyer for purposes of a lawsuit.

Lawyers don’t care about the amounts charged because it’s their clients who have to pay for these-out-of-pocket disbursements.

Often, these amounts are reimbursed by an insurance company as part of a settlement. But not always.

Medical records may be required to process a disability claim, to apply under the Ontario Disability Support Program, or to apply for social assistance under Ontario Works.

Often people with disabilities have lengthy medical records, resulting in large fees.

Not all medical professionals overcharge their patients, nor does every pharmacist, but there’s no excuse for this regulatory gap.

Some professionals will reduce their fee if asked by their patients, but why should anybody be put in that position?

Many hospitals charge reasonable fees.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre has an electronic records system and allows patients to access and print many records online, without a fee.

This issue doesn’t apply to situations where professionals are asked to prepare reports or provide a summary of records.

Professionals are entitled to be fairly compensated for these tasks, although too many charge excessive amounts for them, thinking an insurance company will pick up the tab.

Personal injury lawyer Roger Foisy has long advocated for government regulation, pointing out an Ontario Medical Association recommendation that physicians charge $30 for the first 20 pages and 25-cents for additional pages is not normally followed.

He also points out the OMA recommendation doesn’t apply to clinics that employ chiropractors or physiotherapists.

According to Foisy, the excessive fees impact clients’ net settlement values and increase costs for insurance companies thereby contributing to higher premiums.

While the Ontario government is otherwise occupied and apparently unable to proclaim a simple regulation — after all there must be so many stakeholders who have yet to be consulted — there is something you can do if faced with an exorbitant bill for your medical records.

First, ask to have the fee reduced. If you don’t want to do that or it doesn’t work, you can file a complaint with Ontario’s (or your own province’s) Information and Privacy Commission.

If they believe the fee is too high they can intercede and have the fee reduced. 


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