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A request for dental records: can you ask why?

09 September 2019

Dentists should be aware of the impact of the GDPR on requests for dental records from patients.

Member query

A patient requested a copy of her dental records when she moved to another dentist midway through a course of treatment.

Dr S was unclear why the patient had requested the records. He was unsure if he should clarify this with the patient to establish precisely what records were required. As a long-standing patient of the practice the records covered many years, were mostly in paper form and all of the radiographs were actual films. Dr S was not clear how best to provide the records, particularly copies of the radiographs, without incurring considerable costs.

Dr S contacted Dental Protection seeking advice on the situation.

Advice

Dr S spoke to a dentolegal consultant at Dental Protection, who was able to advise that a request for dental records is covered by the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which was brought into Irish law by the Data Protection Act 2018.

The new law has made a number of changes that relate to requests for dental records. One of these is that records should be disclosed to a patient (or authorised third party) within thirty days of the request. Additionally no charge is to be made for providing the records unless there are particular and very exceptional circumstances. Records can be provided electronically if the patient requests. There is no need for a patient to provide a reason for the record request.

In practical terms, making copies of actual radiographs can be achieved economically. It is possible to take a digital photograph to send to the patient by placing the film on an x-ray light box with the main lights turned off. The alternative is to use a copy shop with facilities for copying transparencies or send the films off to be professionally copied.

Although it may be helpful to know if the patient requires all of their historic records to simplify the copying process, the patient does have a right to be provided with a copy of the complete record.

For more information about GDPR see ‘How does the new GDPR affect my practice?

Please note: Dental Protection does not maintain this article and therefore the advice given may be incorrect or out of date, and may not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the legal, regulatory and/or clinical environment. MPS accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the advice given, in particular where the legal, regulatory and/or clinical environment has changed. Articles are not intended to constitute advice in any specific situation, and if you are a member you should contact Dental Protection for tailored advice. All implied warranties and conditions are excluded, to the maximum extent permitted by law.