Patients win a medical victory

Patients win a medical victory
Highlights

Patients Win A Medical Victory. “Patients have a right to get their medical records from hospitals and the Health Ministry should issue instructions to ensure that such documents are not denied,” the Law Ministry said last week.

Hospitals can’t refuse medical reports any longer

“Patients have a right to get their medical records from hospitals and the Health Ministry should issue instructions to ensure that such documents are not denied,” the Law Ministry said last week.

Against the backdrop of a Central Information Commission judgment ordering disclosure of information to a former RAW official, the law ministry has pointed out that most of the time the hospital authorities do not provide details of the medical records or the treatment given to a patient.

Sources in the Law Ministry said easy availability of medical records would help patients avoid approaching courts or quasi judicial bodies for remedy.

He said that the instructions could be issued based on the CIC order. Nisha Priya Bhatia, a former official of research and analysis wing, had sought her medical records from the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, where she was admitted on the orders of Delhi High Court.

These records were denied to her as the institute cited Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act which allowed an authority to withhold information which would impede an investigation.

Rejecting the contention, information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said that patients had a right to their medical records which is rooted in Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution and respondent hospitals ought to provide it.

Why hospitals refuse to part with the medical records? Because any wrong treatment, drug or surgery can land them in court and may have to pay huge compensation for the patient or his relatives.

Here are some patients and their families which suffered when medical records were not shared and how they fought their way out.

For five days as her husband lay in his hospital bed suffering from kidney cancer, Sumitra, a practicing lawyer begged doctors and nurses for his medical records, and for five days she didn’t receive them. On the sixth day, her husband needed to be transferred to another hospital - without his complete medical records.

"When Manshuk (Sumitra’s husband) arrived at the second hospital, they couldn't give him any pain medication because they didn't know what drugs he already had in his system, and they didn't want to overdose him," says Sumitra, who came to Hyderabad from Nanded district in Maharashtra. "For six hours he was in pain, panicking, while I ran back to the first hospital and got the rest of the records."

“Lack of information kills people,” she says. “Having your medical records can save your life,” cried Sumitra.

“Every patient has a right to get their medical records,” she says. “Our goal is to work with patients to get their records, protecting their privacy rights at the same time.”

As her husband writhed in pain, Sumitra drove to the first hospital with her husband's power of attorney in hand. “I had to get nasty. I had to say, 'You did a bad job, and I'm angry, and the second hospital is angry’,” she says. An hour-and-a-half later, she had the records in hand and took them to the second hospital, where, after looking at the chart, they gave her husband more pain medication.

“Almost everyone I talked to had a horror story about a medical error or difficulty in getting access to medical records to take to a new doctor or hospital,” she expresses.

Dr Nageshwar Rao, retired professor of a medical college, practicing at a corporate hospital, says that he can't speak to any specific case where a patient had trouble getting records from a hospital.

The CEO of a high-tech company in Chennai, George Thomas, says that he learned the importance of looking at his medical records when his father went for an annual physical test last summer and his doctor told him an Electrocardiography (ECG) test the year before indicated he did have a heart attack.

He says that no one had ever told his father he had an abnormal ECG. “His physician didn't bother to look at the result of his ECG and failed to inform my father’s condition,” George wrote in a blog.

George’s father went to a hospital near his residence in Anna Nagar, where a cardiac catheterisation showed two arteries were so severely blocked that he needed to undergo an open heart surgery. George found another hospital with better success rates for bypass surgery, and arranged to have his father transferred there.

His sister, Leslie tried to get their father's medical records. In particular, she wanted the copy of a CD showing the results of his cardiac catheterisation, an invasive procedure where a tube is inserted through an artery to the heart.

We started with the nursing staff and they said, 'We don't normally give patients their records’, she said. I then talked to a clerk at the hospital who told me I had to go to an offsite storage facility to get the records. Then they told me I had to ask the hospital."

Finally, Leslie talked to someone else at the hospital and threatened to call her uncle who’s a lawyer in the high court. After talking it over with a cardiologist, she received her father's records, and he had his bypass surgery a few days later at the second hospital.

Be prepared to make your request in writing, she says. You can bring it in person, or fax the request in, but make sure you confirm that the hospital's received it.

One way to get your medical records more quickly is to seek out providers who use electronic medical records so the records can be e-mailed to you, she says. Some providers have an electronic portal so you can read your records anytime you want on a secure site on the internet.

“The doctor doesn't have to give you access to everything in your record. For example, your doctor doesn't/needn’t have to give you access to information he or she thinks might cause you or someone else substantial harm,” says the senior health information officer at the Department of Health.

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