Can German patients demand a complete copy of their medical file?

They certainly can. The German Civil Code contains an entire chapter on medical treatment and patient rights. Section 630g German Civil Code regulates that a patient has the right to demand to personally inspect the original patient file. This includes computer files as well as any handwritten notes that may exist. Nowadays, most physicians and certainly all hospitals keep patient files in electronic form. Thus, in practice, the doctors and medical institutions will offer to provide the patient with a copy of the medical records in such electronic form, i.e. as a CD, DVD or cloud based download option.

In some cases, especially when it comes to psychotherapy or mental disorder treatment, the neurologist oder psychotherapist may reason that it is against the patient’s best interest to grant him or her full knowledge of the file. However, this paternalistic view becomes more and more rare. Nowadays, German courts usually do rule in favour of the patient who wants to obtain full knowledge of his or her medical records, even if the patient may not be happy about the medical findings contained in such files.

How to obtain medical records to prepare a German tort case

We have explained in this post (link) how to make a personal injury claim in Germany. As far as compensation for pain and suffering (Schmerzensgeld) is concerned, such German personal injury lawsuits do not provide quite the same upside potential as in the United States due to the lack of a jury and due to the restrictive tradition of German law when it comes to non-monetary damages. Still, German law, in principle does compensate a patient for all costs, losses, expenses and also some non-monetary damages.

If a patient believes that their medical treatment in Germany was not state of the art and that they have suffered an injury, the first step will be to ask for a copy of the medical records. This enables the patient or a provate medical expert hired by the patient to assess the case.

Release form to authorize lawyers to inspect patient medical information

In such cases, the patient can either ask for a copy of the patient file themselves or instruct a law firm to request the physician/hospital records on the patient’s behalf. Our firm has prepared a bilingual (German / English) standard patient records release request form for our clients to use (download form as pdf):

Medical Records Release Consent Form (German)

In this letter, the client authorizes the lawyers to either inspect the patient file in person at the doctor’s office and/or to request a copy of the file either in paper or in electronic form. This consent form must then be presented to the physician or medical insitution. If the patient or his/her lawyer asks for a copy of the file, the physician / hospital is entitled to demand reimbursement for the costs to make such a copy of the file.

What if the patient has died?

In those tragic cases where a patient has died, the heirs and/or next of kin are usually authorized to inspect the patient files (section 630g para. 3 German Civil Code). However, things tend to get a bit more complicated in those circumstances because a physician may argue that the patient would not have wanted these heirs or relatives to know. In case of a potential tort claim, however, German courts usually rule that the medical records must be disclosed.

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For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.

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