One's right to privacy over their healthcare records is a legal protection that most people take for granted, but the right to keep others from knowing one's medical history is in no way absolute. Many court cases, for example, require proving or disproving the state of the litigant's physical and/or mental state. This is particularly true in the field of family law, where issues like an individual's fitness as a spouse or parent is challenged by the assertion that he or she is not medically fit. Legal standards for the release of medical records in divorce matters were established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the ruling of Kinsella v. Kinsella. However, that ruling was in 1997, when medical information was largely kept in paper form, much of it being handwritten by doctors and nurses.
With the advent of electronic records and the ability to view and access those records on a shared network known as EPR (electronic patient records), clinicians began recording information on PCs, laptops or tablets as opposed to paper charts. This information is then available to other healthcare providers and individuals with legal authorization, such as lawyers and law enforcement officials. The system of electronic healthcare records has many advantages for all the involved parties in terms of cost, efficiency and accuracy. There are, however, some very pertinent legal issues that must be addressed when obtaining and reviewing these types of records.
First, there's the issue of receiving what will most likely be a set of printouts, which may be missing a lot of information. If what you received, for example, is what shows on the main screen of a patient's records, that leaves could leave a lot of fields containing pertinent information. Another consideration is the type of information known as “metadata”, which is data that is embedded into the text or images that are visible when you upload or search for a document. Metadata provides information such as the author of the document, the time it was created, and comments and revisions which may be important to your case. As you can see, simply requesting a printout of the available records is not enough, but the type of information that can be accessed, and for what purpose, is still an issue that has to be decided on a case by case basis.
What is clear, however, is the need to be as thorough as possible when asking for electronic health records. The digitizing of information requires a deeper understanding of privacy laws, along with what should be available for discovery and how that information should be accessed for the purpose of divorce litigation. Litigants also need to be diligent about asking for paper records if they're dealing with mental health providers, since most therapists still keep fairly extensive paper records. For more information about obtaining medical records and other documentation relevant to your divorce, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.