Nova Scotia

Cape Breton doctor shortage a problem for patients wanting records

Thousands of people who've lost their family doctor in Cape Breton have found out they've lost something else too: access to their medical records.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it's trying to fill 13 vacancies in Cape Breton

The CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Nova Scotia says charging a patient for their medical records is standard practice. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Thousands of people who've lost their family doctor in Cape Breton have found out they've lost something else too: access to their medical records.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it's trying to fill 13 vacancies in Cape Breton for family doctors who have retired or left their practices, or plan to in the next six to 18 months.

Patients like Don Morrison were surprised to discover they have to pay a fee to get their own files.

Morrison's doctor wrapped up her practice in Sydney a few weeks ago. He was notified by mail he will be charged if he wants a copy of his medical records.

- Gus Grant

"My documents, medical documents, have been filed with an archive in Toronto, which isn't much good to me, " he said. "I can retrieve them by paying a fee of $80 or so in the next three months."

Morrison isn't sure he'll pay the fee, or what he'll do with his file, since he has yet to find another family doctor willing to take patients.

The CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Nova Scotia says charging a patient for their medical records is standard practice.

"Patients are often of the belief that they own their records, but in fact, they are the work product and the possession of the physician," said Dr. Gus Grant.

Records kept ten years

He says the charge to the patient to hand over a copy of the file covers the cost to the physician's office for photocopying or digitizing the records.

He recommends that people pay the fee, so they can hand the file to their next doctor.

"I think it's very important to maintain a good, thorough, complete and continuous medical record," said Grant. "I think it really helps deliver good medical care."

Grant says even after they retire or leave their practices, doctors are required by law to ensure their patients' records are safely maintained for 10 years, in case of legal proceedings.

He says the college gets a lot of inquiries from patients who are trying to track down their records, especially if a doctor has been forced to leave their practice suddenly such as in the case of illness.

"The college expects that reasonable steps are taken to enable patients to enjoy access to their charts, but you have to look at each in light of the circumstances."

Grant says if a doctor willfully refuses to provide a medical record, that can be considered professional misconduct. But he says those cases are rare, and the college can often assist a patient in navigating the system to track down where their files have been stored.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Martin

Reporter

Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca

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