Health Care Providers and Custody Disputes

Health care providers who treat minor patients are often dragged into custody disputes or used by parents for information or leverage in legal proceedings.  One of the questions health care providers encounter in such situations is whether both parents have equal rights to the minor patient's medical records.  As a general rule, California law provides that access to a child's medical records cannot be denied to a parent simply because that parent is not the parent with custody.  In other words, even non-custodial parents have the right to request their child's medical records.  There are instances, however,  where a health care provider determines that the production of a child's medical records to one parent or another would do more harm than good for the patient.  California law permits a health care provider to decline to produce the medical records of a minor patient where the provider determines in good faith that producing the records would have a detrimental effect on (1) the provider's professional relationship with the patient, or (2) the patient's physical safety, or (3) the patient's psychological well-being.  If a provider makes such a good faith determination and declines to produce medical records as a result, there is no liability for the provider's refusal.  The provider's decision should be well-documented, with the basis for any refusal to produce medical records clearly identified.  There are a myriad of state and federal laws that control confidentiality of medical records and the requirements for their production.  Health care providers with any question about how to proceed in certain circumstances or best practices should seek legal advice from an attorney