Following the death of a general practitioner, the medical files of his patients went into storage along with the rest of his professional and personal belongings.
A number of the deceased doctor's patients went to a new practice nearby. The new practice contacted the spokesperson for the deceased doctor's estate and requested that he send through the files of these patients under section 22F of the Health Act.
The spokesperson for the estate advised that, as no executor had been appointed to the estate, he was not in a position to transfer any of the deceased doctor's files. The spokesperson for the estate was concerned that he would face liability for making a decision about the deceased doctor's estate without the legal authority to do so.
Section 22F of the Health Act
Section 22F of the Health Act places strict legal obligations on health agencies to transfer health information when requested by a health provider in order to treat a patient.
This obligation is essential to the efficient provision of health care to New Zealanders. It is crucial that health providers have access to medical notes about a patient in order to ensure that they receive the correct treatment.
There are circumstances in which a health agency may refuse to transfer health information. These include where the patient vetoes the transfer or where the health agency has a lawful excuse for not transferring the information.
We contacted the spokesperson for the estate immediately on receiving this complaint. We acknowledged that he was in a very difficult position. On the one hand, he was personally not legally responsible for the files, but on the other hand the patients' new doctor needed the information urgently and the estate was obliged to ensure that the files were sent to that doctor.
As a result of my discussions with the spokesperson, he agreed to immediately transfer the files that the new practice had requested. The spokesperson acted quickly and, as a result, we were able to resolve this complaint just over one month after receiving it. The new practice was very happy with this result.
Finally, I explained to the spokesperson for the estate that it was essential that he continue to quickly transfer any future files requested by new doctors. I also asked the spokesperson to ensure that, once appointed, the executor of the estate was made aware of the legal obligations created by section 22F of the Health Act. The spokesperson agreed to do so.
Having resolved the complaint, I closed my file.
Disclosure of health information - deceased doctor's estate - transfer to new health provider - settlement: transfer of files - Health Act, section 22F