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Everyday Legal Problems

Taking Charge of Your Health Information

The story of your health is yours to manage.

“Six months ago, my work transferred me to BC from another province. I was glad my previous doctor helped me put together a personal health record. I organized the records in a folder and gave copies to my new doctor and my new physiotherapist. I was surprised at the peace of mind I immediately felt.”

– Sarah, Port Coquitlam

The story of your health is yours to manage. But a lot of people don’t see things that way. Instead, they leave their health information in the hands of doctors and hospitals. 

There are plenty of reasons to keep track of this information for yourself. For example:

  • Insurers often insist on seeing your records before they sell you a policy or settle a claim.
  • If you get sick while you’re away from home, having your medical records handy can speed up treatment.
  • If you move, having access to your health information ensures continuity of care.

Your personal health information includes your current health information plus your medical records. Here are seven tips to help you keep it all under control.

Tip 1. You have a right to access your health information

Under BC law, health care providers must keep records of the medical care they give you. The records must include the reason for your visit. They must also clearly describe any investigations ordered, any diagnosis made, and any treatment or medication the provider recommended. 

You have the right to see the records created by your health care providers, except in a few specific circumstances. We explain these in our page on accessing your medical records.

Tip 2. You can request a copy of your medical records

While the information in your medical records belongs to you, the physical records don’t. They belong to whoever created them—the hospital, doctor, or other health care provider who treated you. You’re entitled to a copy of your medical records, though you may be charged a small fee. Learn what’s involved in our page on accessing your medical records.

Health care providers have a duty to make sure their clients’ records are accurate and complete. If yours aren’t, you can ask for them to be updated. See our page on fixing a mistake in your medical records.

Tip 3. Your medical records are confidential, except in rare circumstances

Your health care provider can’t share your medical records without your permission, except in a few specific situations. 

They can, for instance, share your medical records with other health care providers who are treating you. These providers are said to be in your “circle of care”. They’re allowed to see your medical records as long as those records are relevant to the care and treatment you’re receiving from them.

Your provider can also disclose your medical information to comply with a court order. If you’re involved in a lawsuit, a court may order that your medical records be provided to the other party. 

If you receive treatment for a gunshot or stab wound, the health care facility you visited must, by law, report certain details to the local police.  We explain the situations when others can access your medical records in our page on who has access to your medical records

Tip 4. Collect your current health information

To take control of the information about your health, start by collecting your current health information. This might include the following items:

  • Information needed in an emergency. For example, do you have a pacemaker or vision problems? Your emergency contacts need to know.
  • A list of your long-term (chronic) health problems, such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
  • A list of the medicines you’re taking. Include prescription and over-the-counter medicines, dietary and herbal supplements, and vitamins and minerals.
  • A list of your allergies, including drug or food allergies.

Tip 5. Get copies of your medical records

You should acquire copies of your medical records. In particular, try to document the following:

  • Major health problems you’ve had (for example, pneumonia or broken bones).
  • For women, your history of childbirth. This includes how many kids you’ve had, as well as any miscarriages, caesarian sections, or abortions.
  • Health screening results (for example, blood pressure, cholesterol, vision, and hearing).
  • Cancer screenings (for example, PAP tests, mammograms, colonoscopy, and PSA tests).
  • Immunizations.
  • Surgeries or hospital visits.
  • Hearing and vision checkups.
  • Medicines you’ve used in the past.

It’s a good idea to keep a record of major health problems in your family. These might include heart disease, stroke, cancer or diabetes. You can use this form to track your family health history.

Tip 6. There are different ways to store your records

Medical records can be kept in electronic files or on paper. How you choose to store your own copies of this information will depend in part on which format your provider uses. 

Records stored electronically are called electronic records or “eRecords”. If your doctor uses eRecords, they must have a way to share that information with you. The information must be in a format you can understand.

If you receive paper copies of your medical records, consider using a notebook or paper filing system to keep everything together. Either a three-ring binder or a wire-bound notebook—with dividers for each family member—are good options. If the binder has sleeves, you can keep test results and other health documents in it.

If you get electronic copies of your medical records, store those documents on your computer. Use whatever software you’re most comfortable with. You may also consider buying software made specifically for managing personal health information. Make sure you back everything up routinely. 

You can also store electronic medical records on a secure website. That way you can access the information from anywhere. Your health plan or hospital may have one you can use for free. 

Treat your medical records as you would your resumé. Determine an overall health strategy and write it down so you can share it with your doctor. For example, “My goal is to run a half marathon with my daughter.” Keep that goal in mind every time there’s a question about treatment.

Tip 7. Keep basic health information in your wallet

Certain information you should carry at all times in case of an emergency. These include:

  • identification (for example, a driver’s licence)
  • the name and phone number of an emergency contact
  • the name and number of your primary doctor
  • your insurance card
  • your organ donor card, if you have one

If Your Spouse Declares Bankruptcy

What you need to know if your spouse goes bankrupt.

“My husband is an entrepreneur with a very unsteady income. Most of our big expenses, like the family car, we have financed jointly. (Meaning I paid for them.) Now he has had a run of “bad luck.” (Meaning botched business schemes.) He’s considering declaring bankruptcy so he can get a “fresh start.” (Meaning my retirement plans just went down the drain.) Things feel out of control.”

– Jennifer, North Vancouver

Your spouse is in hot water with their creditors. They've got a ton of credit card debt. They’re maxed out their personal line of credit. They're late with their car loan payments. Now, they're talking about filing for personal bankruptcy. You’re wondering: “Am I responsible for paying their debts?” Learn what you need to know if your spouse declares bankruptcy.

You aren’t automatically responsible for your spouse’s debts

Under Canada’s bankruptcy laws, if your spouse declares bankruptcy, you aren’t automatically on the hook for their debts.

Any debts your spouse acquired on their own are their responsibility. For example, if your spouse signed a loan agreement to buy a car before you met, the creditor can’t come after you for payments. If you never signed the agreement, you can’t be responsible for the debt. 

However, there are certain situations where you can be responsible for a spouse’s debts. These are discussed below.

When a debt collector is trying to collect a debt, they might tell the debtor that if they don’t pay, the collector will demand payment from the debtor’s spouse. This is a scare tactic. There are strict rules preventing a debt collector from contacting a debtor’s family members. See our guidance on dealing with debt collectors.

If you have joint debts

If you have a joint debt with another person, both of you are responsible for what is owed, regardless of your personal relationship. If one person isn’t able to make the monthly payments, the other person is required to pay. 

For example, if you and your spouse take out a car loan together, the loan is a joint debt. If your spouse declares bankruptcy, you’re legally responsible for making the payments on the loan. Your spouse’s bankruptcy would clear them of the obligation, but not you.

If you have a joint debt that has been secured with collateral, and you default on the debt (such as by missing a payment), the secured creditor is legally allowed to take the collateral and sell it. See our page on when a creditor wants to repossess your property.

If you have joint accounts

If you have a joint account with another person, both of you have ownership rights over the account, regardless of your personal relationship. For example, if you have a joint chequing account with your spouse, you both own the money in the account. And you’re both legally responsible for any amount owing on the account—that is, any overdraft on the account.

If your spouse declares bankruptcy and your joint account is in overdraft, you are legally responsible for the full overdraft. 

If the joint account has money in it, the licensed insolvency trustee will look at the account and determine who gets it. While going through bankruptcy, your spouse is permitted to maintain a “reasonable standard of living”. Any amount of surplus income or savings in a joint account would go to the trustee to distribute to creditors. For more, see our page on declaring bankruptcy.

If you share a credit card

If you have a joint credit card with your spouse and they declare bankruptcy, you are legally responsible for the full amount owed on the card. Your spouse’s bankruptcy would clear them from the credit card debt, but not you.

A “supplementary credit card” is treated differently. This is a credit card issued to someone other than the primary cardholder on an account. It’s usually offered to the spouse, parents or children of the primary cardholder. 

Often, all transactions with a supplementary credit card are billed to the primary cardholder. In that case, if your spouse was the primary cardholder, they would be responsible for any amount owing on the card. You would not be responsible. Ultimately, how supplementary credit card debt is treated depends on what your credit card agreement says. 

If you co-signed or guaranteed a loan

When you co-sign for a loan, you and the borrower agree to be jointly responsible for the debt. Each of you is fully and independently on the hook for the loan. If one of you fails to make payments, the lender can ask either of you for the money.

When you sign a guarantee for a loan, you promise to pay the debt if the borrower defaults on an obligation, such as missing a payment. You are the lender’s second resort. The lender must ask the borrower for the money before asking you. 

In both cases—co-signing for a loan or guaranteeing one—the lender can come after you if there’s a default. But if you co-sign for a loan, the lender can come directly to you for payment. 

If you co-sign or guarantee a loan for your spouse, and your spouse files for bankruptcy, the creditor will almost surely come after you for payment. Whether you are the first or second resort, the reality is that the lender can eventually look to you for payment. For more detail, see our page on co-signing or guaranteeing a loan

If you co-own furniture

Under bankruptcy laws in Canada, the property of a bankrupt may be taken (“seized”) and sold to pay their creditors. Under the law in BC, certain property is exempt from bankruptcy proceedings. If your spouse declares bankruptcy, they can protect household furnishings and appliances up to a value of $4,000. (For more on the exemption rules, see our page on declaring bankruptcy.)

If you own furniture or other household items jointly with your spouse, the licensed insolvency trustee will determine the value of the jointly owned furniture. They will divide the value in half. Your share can’t be used to pay your spouse’s debts. 

Any piece of furniture that belongs completely to you (for example, you paid for it with your own money) cannot be seized. 

If any furniture has been put up as collateral under a security agreement, the secured creditor is legally allowed to take it and sell it. See our page on when a creditor wants to repossess your property.

If you co-own a home

During bankruptcy, your spouse can keep their principal residence if:

  • their equity in the residence is less than $9,000 ($12,000 if the residence is in the Metro Vancouver or Victoria areas), and
  • your spouse is not a party to a proceeding involving a mortgage.

If your spouse’s equity is greater than the amount set by the exemption rules, the residence can be seized and sold during the bankruptcy. From the proceeds, secured creditors would be paid first. Your spouse would get what was left over, up to the prescribed amount of the exemption. 

If you own your home jointly with your spouse, the same rules would apply. If your spouse’s equity in the home is under the exemption limit, the home would be exempt from bankruptcy proceedings. If their equity in the home is greater than the exemption limit, the home can be sold to pay your spouse’s creditors. However, only your spouse’s portion of the proceeds from the sale would be used. Your share of the proceeds would be protected.

Any property you own outright (not jointly with your spouse) is protected from seizure, unless your spouse paid for the property. If only your name is on title to your home or your car, those assets cannot be seized to pay your spouse’s creditors. 

If you receive support payments

Under Canada’s bankruptcy laws, going bankrupt doesn’t release a debtor from an obligation to make spousal or child support payments. Your spouse must continue to pay any spousal or child support after being discharged from bankruptcy. 

If your spouse still owes you for earlier support payments, you can make a claim for them as part of your spouse’s bankruptcy. The payments are a debt that is legally owed to you. 

For more on what to expect from bankruptcy proceedings, see our page on declaring bankruptcy.


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