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Records access and management on closure of a medical practice

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In July 2014, a Melbourne general practice made headlines when the Australian Privacy Commissioner found that it had breached the Privacy Act 1988 (Cwlth) by failing to properly secure patient medical records.1 The practice had relocated, leaving its records behind in a garden shed; when a thief broke in, the records became accessible to the public. The case raises the question of how patient medical records should be stored and transferred at the time of a practice closure or other change in operations, such as physical relocation or retirement of a practitioner. Significant changes to practice operations occur frequently in Australia due to corporatisation, relocation or retirement. This article outlines the legal and regulatory requirements that govern how patient records are to be managed in such circumstances.

Overlapping requirements

When a practice closes, its medical records are subject to enforceable legal, regulatory and professional standards and rules. In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria, specific laws govern the management of medical and other practice records.25 In other jurisdictions, there are privacy and information management laws of general application, including the federal Australian Privacy Principles (which replaced the former National Privacy Principles…