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Implications of Refusal to Hand Over Patient Records

Gopinath Shenoy

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Hospitals and doctors even today do not hand over the patient records when demanded. This clearly amounts to contempt of the High Court and is actionable

Hospital and doctors always, until recently, believed that the indoor case records were the exclusive property of the hospital. What the patients had a right to was a ‘treatment summary’, which was handed over to them at the time of discharge. Hospitals and doctors invariably went to the extent of even depriving the patients of this when the patient discontinued treatment and took ‘discharge against medical advice’.

Hospitals and doctors had sound reasons for following this practice, for they believed that whatever came to their knowledge in the course of their professional practice could not be disclosed to any person.

Hippocratic Oath by which every freshly graduated medical student swears by states: “All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or outside of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.” The code of ‘Medical Ethics’ as formulated by the Medical Council of India also directs: “Confidences concerning individual or domestic life entrusted by patients to a physician and defects in the disposition or character of patients observed during medical attendance should never be revealed unless their revelation is required by the laws of the State.” To add to this, the textbook of Forensic Medicine reiterates this fact. Parikh’s Textbook of Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology emphasises: A professional secret is one, which a doctor comes to know in his professional capacity. It should be said that he should that not divulge anything which he has thus learnt in confidence from his patients, of found on examination or noticed in the ordinary privacies of domestic lives. This is not only a moral obligation but also a legal one and a practitioner is liable to damages for its neglect. The above facts reaffirmed the views of the medical professionals that they were duty bound not to disclose the information they came across while they were treating their patients. This practice pursued by the medical profession came under judicial scrutiny in Poona Medical Foundation Ruby Hall Clinic vs. Marutirao L. Titkare and another.

The Hon’ble National Commission after hearing the parties on 11th January 1995, decided that when the in-door records were not supplied to the patient on demand there was no element of negligence or deficiency in the services rendered by the Hospital. The Hon’ble National Commission said:

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