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Patients have right to records, says CIC

New Delhi, July 24 (PTI): The Central Information Commission has asked a health research institute to disclose details a former RAW official had sought, saying patients have a right to get their medical records from both public and private hospitals.

Information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said a patient was a “consumer” under the Consumer Protection Act. “This imposes a statutory obligation not only on public authorities such as the respondents in the case but also to every hospital, public or private, to furnish the record to the patient.”

Nisha Priya Bhatia, a former official with the country’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing, had sought her medical records from the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences where she was admitted on the orders of Delhi High Court.

The institute had refused to give her the records, citing Section 8(1)(h) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which allows an authority to withhold information that could impede an investigation.

Acharyulu rejected the contention, saying patients’ right to their medical records was rooted in the Constitution. He said information commissions could enforce this right against both government and private hospitals under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, 2005.

It was the duty of hospitals, the commissioner added, to provide the records under the RTI Act, the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the Medical Council Act, 1956, and world medical ethics read with the constitutional rights.

Bhatia had alleged before the CIC that her superiors, antagonistic to her for no reason, had started withdrawing her privileges as an officer and, ultimately, removed her chair too, leaving her with no place to sit. She alleged a “deliberate conspiracy” and attempt to depict her as mentally sick just because she had filed complaints against her superiors.

“The background stated suggests that she is in dire need of the medical records to tell the world that she was not mentally sick but fit and also for defending her case before the appropriate forum,” Acharyulu said.

He said information regarding medical records, especially when the appellant was disputing her stay and treatment, should be disclosed within 48 hours, as mandated in the RTI Act, as it amounted to a matter concerning life and liberty.

The commissioner said if her allegation — that she was treated for no reason or for wrongful reasons — is proved, her stay in the hospital could be considered “illegal detention”.

“This would raise questions of serious violation of right to life and liberty,” he said, adding that the information Bhatia had sought was denied “without substantiating” how it could impede the investigation.

Citing the order of Delhi High Court, the information commissioner said it was mandatory for a public authority to show that disclosure of the information sought would indeed hamper the probe. “The officers of (the) respondent authority told the commission that no such investigation was under process. They did not present anything to explain as to how Section 8(1)(h) could be used to deny the information,” Acharyulu said in a 24-page order.

Acharyulu issued a show-cause notice to the hospital for invoking the non-applicable clause to deny the information. He said an “empty claim” of exception under Section 8(1)(h) could not justify the refusal to disclose the information to which the appellant had a right, both under the RTI Act and the Consumer Protection Act.