Orphaned patient cries foul over retiring doctor's handling of medical records

·4 min read
Cathi Poplar said she finds it unbelievable that her medical records were given to a third party company. (iStock - image credit)
Cathi Poplar said she finds it unbelievable that her medical records were given to a third party company. (iStock - image credit)

A Riverview, N.B., woman says she has complaints and concerns about the way medical records are being handled when doctors close their practices without having another doctor to take over.

Cathi Poplar said she was not given a chance to pick up her personal patient files before they were transferred to a document storage company without her consent, and now she must waive their responsibility for privacy and pay more than $130 in order to get copies.

"It just blows my mind that this is not a privacy violation," said Poplar.

"I can't believe that my whole entire medical record was given to a third party company that's not even here — it's in Toronto — to sell back to me."

Poplar said when she received notice on April 17 that Dr. Rolande Colas was retiring in June, she called the office right away. But she was informed all arrangements to obtain records would be made through DOCUdavit Solutions, a company based in Toronto.

Cathi Poplar/LinkedIn
Cathi Poplar/LinkedIn

The letter had a date of March 17 on it, she said, but she checks her mail daily and said a neighbour who has the same doctor received the notice on the same day.

CBC left messages at Dr. Colas's office Wednesday and Thursday, but received no reply.

According to the New Brunswick Medical Association website, when a physician closes their practice, "they will notify their patients at least 30 days in advance," and "patients can request their records be provided to them or transferred to another physician."

Poplar said she was not given that opportunity and has filed a complaint with the New Brunswick College of Physicians and Surgeons and the premier's office.

The college's website has the following details about physician requirements when it comes to medical records:

  • The Personal Health Information Privacy and Access Act requires that patients who request their records be granted access and/or copies within 30 days, with appropriate supervision or assistance to interpret the documents and at no extra charge for that assistance if it's for health purposes.

  • Fees for copies are limited to a maximum charge of 25 cents per page, plus postage.

  • When a practice is closed, patients have to be given "reasonable notice" of the location of their records, which should be secured. Physicians can keep electronic copies after the originals are destroyed and physicians can use a document storage company for these services.

Poplar said she has an ongoing medical issue, so she probably will end up paying for copies of her records, which include every medical test, visit to a doctor's office or clinic, immunization, prescription and treatment she's had since she was 10 years old.

She'll need that information to navigate the health-care system on her own, since she doesn't have a doctor, she said.

Doctors use storage companies such as DOCUdavit so they don't have to worry about fulfilling their "significant" responsibilities to keep secure and accessible patient records after they retire, said Sidney Soil, president of DOCUdavit.

"We have certifications for our facility, our systems and our processes and an excellent record," he said, and fees for copies of records "can be reduced for those who can't afford full price."

To Poplar, it seems like "a hole" in the health care system.

"Legally my doctor is responsible for holding and maintaining my files for 10 years. This is the loophole — the company has come in and said, 'We'll do this for you.'"

In the last three years, more physicians than ever have been closing their practices, said Soil.

Patrick Morrell/CBC
Patrick Morrell/CBC

He didn't disclose exact numbers of his company's clients, but said last year, DOCUdavit was hired to store records for more physicians across Canada than they had been in the previous two years combined.

He said he's aware of five New Brunswick doctors who have have their closed practices just since February.

A "huge" number of baby boomers are retiring, said Soil, and some physicians are "just tired" of what's going on in the health system.

'Acceptable practice'

It's not clear how many patients are being denied a chance to pick up their records before their doctor's office closes. Poplar said she's heard of a few others.

Dr. Laurie Potter, registrar of the New Brunswick College of Physicians and Surgeons, did not explicitly answer a question about whether patients have a right to pick up their files at a doctor's office before they are handed over to a storage company, but said guidance was provided in the Personal Health Information Privacy and Access Act.

Physicians should give notice of 90 days when they're closing, if possible, she said, but transferring files to a third party such as DOCUdavit is "acceptable practice."

Ombud N.B. wouldn't say if it's received any complaints about the handling of medical records.