Washington Law Review


James M. Madden


Patients have traditionally had no right of access to their own medical records. Patients' access to their mental health records has been especially restricted. Recently, however, a number of jurisdictions have enacted legislation granting patients access to their medical and mental health records. In addition to this legislative trend, the Washington Supreme Court recently interpreted the state's Public Disclosure Act as creating a right of patient access to public hospital records. Part I of this Comment evaluates the desirability of allowing patients a general right of access to their medical and mental health records. While this Comment finds that there is a clear need for patient access to both mental and general medical records, it takes the position that physician discretion to withhold records from patients should be preserved in certain cases. Such discretion is particularly necessary with respect to mental records, due to the sensitive nature of mental illness and treatment. Part I then reviews the existing law on patient access to health records. Part II analyzes Washington law on this subject, and concludes that Washington law is deficient in its handling of the problems of the patient access process. Finally, Part II proposes a statutory solution to the problems in Washington's patient access law. This statute would provide a general right of patient access to records and would limit physician discretion to withhold the record to narrowly prescribed cases. The statute would also regulate third-party access to patient records.

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