A&A: CPRA for personal medical record

Q: I recently submitted a CPRA request inquiring about my personal medical record. The CPRA was accepted but certain information that I requested was forwarded to several medical departments, requiring their consent to disclose. If a document is not responded to through a CPRA, what are my further options, or entitlements (preceding an expensive court action)?

A: As you appear to be aware, under the California Public Records Act, public records — which include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics,” Gov’t Code section 6252(e) — are presumed to be open to the public and must be disclosed unless a specific provision of the Act or other law exempts them from disclosure.

While many hospitals, particularly those that are part of a hospital district that receives funding and other support from local government, are subject to the PRA, there may be hospitals that are not necessarily subject to the PRA. You might want to check to make sure the hospital from which you are requesting your records is indeed subject to the PRA.

Given that you are seeking your personal medical records, it may be that the PRA is not the right vehicle to obtain those records.  In general, medical records, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, are generally exempt from disclosure.  Gov’t Code § 6254(c).

Of course, given you are seeking your own records, the reasons behind this exemption do not really apply.  That said, there may be other state or federal laws that will give you the tools necessary to obtain your health records – laws that would apply to any hospital, publicly supported or not.  For example, under HIPAA, there are rules related to providing individuals with their “personal health records.”

Unfortunately, HIPAA is outside the scope of our expertise here at the FAC, but you may find this brochure on Personal Health Records, helpful in making your request.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.