Patient receives first copy of their patient file free of charge

A patient demands a copy of his patient file from his dentist in order to assert liability claims against her for errors that she allegedly made during his dental treatment. However, the dentist demands that he pay the costs of providing the copy of the patient file, as required by German law.

As the patient is of the opinion that he is entitled to a free copy, he appeals to the German courts. In these circumstances, the German Federal Court of Justice decided to refer questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. In the opinion of the Federal Court of Justice, the decision of the dispute depends on the interpretation of the provisions of EU law, namely the General Data Protection Regulation (hereinafter: GDPR).

In its judgment, the Court states that the GDPR enshrines the patient's right to receive a first copy of their patient file, in principle without incurring any costs. The controller can only demand such a fee if the patient has already received a first copy of their data free of charge and makes a new request for this.

The dentist in question is to be regarded as the data controller for the processing of her patient's personal data. As such, she is obliged to provide him with an initial copy of his data free of charge. The patient is not obliged to justify his request.

Even with a view to protecting the economic interests of those providing treatment, national regulations must not impose the costs of a first copy of a patient's file on the patient.

Furthermore, the patient has the right to receive a complete copy of the documents contained in a patient file if this is necessary to understand the personal data contained in these documents. This includes data from the patient file containing information such as diagnoses, examination results, findings of the attending physicians and details of treatments or interventions.

Judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-307/22 | FT (copy of a patient file)

Source: Press release no. 161/23 of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 20.10.2023