Dentist Fights for Patient Privacy Rights

Hands Off My Patient Files!

A Canadian dentist has decided it’s time to take a stand to protect his patients — from the dental board!

As part of its regular dental practice inspections, the Quebec Order of Dentists sometimes takes original patient files, keeping them for as long as four months before returning them to the dental office. (That’s if they’re returned on time, of course.)

Dr. Christopher Herten-Graven has refused to turn over patient files, arguing that doing so could violate his patients’ privacy. Moreover, the doctor asks, what if a file is gone but the patient needs treatment? His lawyer acknowledges that dentists are required to provide access to charts and files, books and registers, but adds, “There’s nothing in the professional code that says he or she has to surrender original documents.”

It’s a balancing act between regulating medical professionals and respecting the privacy of patient records. “The right to regulate the profession overrides the patients’ right to privacy in the same way that the police, if they get a search warrant, overrule privacy rights,” said David Fraser, a Toronto lawyer who focuses on privacy concerns. “But the organization should not be demanding documents just for the sake of demanding documents.”

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