Bid to halt purging of old medical records

A NSW psychiatrist makes a case for not destroying old psychiatric records – and no, his argument isn’t solely for research purposes, but clinical. And maybe Hell has frozen over, because you’re about to see me argue for retention, instead of destruction, of old records. Ewa Kretowicz reports:

In the past three years, more than 5000 files from Rozelle/Callan Park, Cumberland, James Fletcher and Kenmore psychiatric hospitals ranging from the 1960s to the 1980s have been incinerated.

Records archived before 1960 will be kept and will become publicly available in 110 years but consultant psychiatrist at Westmead Hospital Greg de Moore warns the new policy is compromising patient care.

He said files from the 1960s covered the transitional period from asylum to community care and were still relevant.

”We see patients today that have been in psychiatric care before – 20 or 30 years ago and those details are critical, past files not only assist with diagnosis but they offer insights into what treatments worked before,” he said.

Read more on Canberra Times.

The psychiatrist raises a good point, as much as I hate to risk data theft or breaches by retaining data. The point of retention should be usefulness of the data. If the data are still useful, they should be retained (securely, of course). Certainly in my own clinical practice, I do go back to records (if they’re available) from years ago. Sometimes, in working with adult patients, we want to see if there were earlier signs of disorders or problems or whether there had been any indication of certain things in the past. In other cases, where previous generations were often not diagnosed at all or diagnosed vaguely or incorrectly, having old records with narrative descriptions has been immensely useful in detecting familial genetic conditions.

And of course, there is all the potential research value in records.

So I’m with Dr. de Moore on this one and I hope NSW re-thinks this issue.

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