Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

French patients gain access to medical records

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 13 October 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:826
  1. Alexandre Dorozynski
  1. Paris

    The French parliament last week approved a bill to give patients access to their medical records. Currently, doctors can withhold any information they feel may be harmful to patients.

    The proposed legislation states that any person has the right to access medical data about him or her kept by professionals or health establishments. The information includes reports, test results, surveillance records, and any correspondence between health professionals unless it contains information about another individual.

    The bill, proposed by Dr Bernard Kouchner, secretary of state for health, states that patients could no longer be considered the passive objects of medical decisions. “A patient should be able to have all the data necessary to understand his situation, to enlighten his decision.”

    The measure was opposed by some doctors and members of parliament who warned that learning the truth could sometimes provoke real therapeutic risks.

    During discussions that continued late into the night last week, Dr Kouchner insisted that the measure was part of a changing culture in the relationship between doctors and patients. Communist, socialist, and “green” members of parliament voted for the bill, while most of the right wing parliamentarians abstained. In the coming weeks, the bill will be discussed by the Senate, which may introduce some amendments.

    During the same three day session devoted to health matters, parliament approved a series of other measures, including the creation of a national fund to compensate victims of medical injuries, including iatrogenic diseases, nosocomial infections, and “no fault” medical errors.

    Patients with haemophilia who have receive contaminated blood up to six months before the adoption of the law will qualify, and the Senate may include others, such as patients who have been infected in recent years with the hepatitis C virus.

    The fund will be financed by the social security's health insurance system. “Patients should be less afraid of going to hospital now,” commented Dr Kouchner.

    Parliament also voted to allow professionals without a medical degree to use the titles of “osteopath” and “chiropractor” provided that they had a diploma showing that they were qualified in those areas; they also voted to introduce a ban on any discrimination based on genetic characteristics and sexual preferences.