Dear Office of the Australian Information Commissioner,
I am an animal naturopath and treat patients via my clinic. At times we request the client to gather records from their vet especially blood test results and found that there are some vets that refuse to pass these details to the pet owners. Under the freedom of information act I can't understand why people can request there own personal health records yet have difficulty obtaining those of their pets of which they have paid for.
The Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria states the following in their guidelines but I would like to know if this is following the freedom of information's act.
If this is the case then why does it not apply to the rights of pet owners?
11.3 CLIENT ENTITLEMENT TO THE RECORDS OF THEIR ANIMALS
11.3.1 Veterinary Practitioners are not legally required to provide copies of the clinical record to the client.
11.3.2 Transfer of Records to another Veterinary Practitioner
When a request to forward veterinary medical records to another treating veterinary practitioner is made this request must be actioned promptly after client consent has been provided.
When a medical record is transferred and a copy is not retained (e.g. radiographs), a note should be made of the name and address of where the information was transferred.
Our reference: EN16/06688
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Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Thank you for your enquiry. I apologise for the delay in our response.
Generally speaking, the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) only applies to records held by Commonwealth Government agencies. The Victorian FOI Act only applies to documents held by Victorian Government agencies.
Unless a vet is a Government agency, then the FOI Act will not apply.
However, if an owner’s own personal information is included in their pet’s medical file, then there is the possibility of obtaining access through the Privacy Act 1988 (the Act). But if it is just the pet’s name throughout the file or on the x-ray, then the Act will not apply. It only allows the right of access to an individual’s own personal information.
I will explain in further detail below.
How the Act applies
The Australian Privacy Principles (the APPs) contained in the Act set out the way many private sector organisations are to handle personal information. The APPs apply to organisations which have an annual turnover greater than $3 million and to all private health service providers.
APP 12 provides individuals with a general right to access the personal information that an organisation holds about them, unless an exception applies.
APP 12.3 lists ten grounds on which an organisation can refuse to give access to personal information.
APP 12.4 states that an organisation must give an individual access to their information in the manner requested by the individual, if it is reasonable and practical to do so. It also states that the request must be fulfilled within a reasonable period of time. We generally consider a reasonable timeframe to be 30 days.
APP 12.9 states if the APP entity refuses to give access to the personal information, or to give access in the manner requested by the individual, the entity must give the individual a written notice that sets out:
• the reasons for the refusal except to the extent that it would be unreasonable to do so; and
• the mechanisms available to complain about the refusal; and
• any other matter prescribed by the regulations.
How to make a complaint
If you consider that an organisation covered by the Act has not fulfilled its obligations under Act, you may wish to lodge a complaint with the OAIC by following the below process.
• you need to complain to the organisation in the first instance, outlining your privacy concerns, and allow it 30 days to respond
• if you do not receive a response after 30 days, or you are dissatisfied with the response, you can make a written complaint to this office
• you can submit a complaint to the OAIC by using our online complaint form.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (the OAIC) regulates the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (the Privacy Act) and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) (the FOI Act). The office has the power to investigate complaints about the alleged mishandling of personal information by Australian and Norfolk Island government agencies and many private sector organisations, as well as the power to review FOI decisions. We are also responsible for handling privacy complaints about ACT Government agencies.
For further information please visit our website.
I hope this information has been useful. If you have any further enquiries, please contact the OAIC Enquiries line on 1300 363 992.
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
I would like to send a friendly reminder that my request for a response has not be fulfilled by the legally required date. Can I please have a response to my question regarding freedom of access to your pets veterinary records?