Taking charge of your health information

“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, BC

Your personal health information includes your current health information plus your medical records. 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. Here, we offer tips to help you take charge of your health information and keep it all under control.

What you should know

Why you should take charge of your health information

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.

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.

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 accessing your medical records.

Ensuring your records are accurate

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. We explain how to fix a mistake in your medical records.

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

Take action

Step 1. 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.

Step 2. Get copies of your medical records

You should acquire copies of your medical records. We walk you through how to do this. 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.

Track your family health history

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.

Step 3. Set up a system to store your medical 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. 

Map out a strategy

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.

Step 4. 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

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in June 2018
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Erika Decker

Erika Decker

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