Patient rights and data protection


In the ever-evolving landscape of patient rights and data protection, a recent legal dispute has drawn attention to the nuanced intersection of health care and privacy laws. The case involves a patient’s quest for access to his medical records at a dentist’s office with the intention of holding the health care provider liable for alleged errors in treatment. At the heart of the matter lies the interpretation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a crucial piece of EU legislation that protects individuals’ data rights. With the German Federal Court seeking guidance from the Court of Justice, this introduction provides the basis for an exploration of the patient’s right to a free first copy of medical records and the broader implications for data protection in health care.

Patient Rights and Personal Data in the Spotlight

The protection of personal data includes a patient’s right to receive an initial copy of their medical records at no cost. In one particular case, a patient requests a copy of his medical records from his dentist with the intention of holding the dentist liable for alleged errors in dental care. Citing German law, the dentist insists that the patient must bear the costs associated with providing the medical records.

EU Court prehearing procedure on Interpretation of AVG

Contesting the payment requirement, the patient invoked the right to a free copy and brought legal action in the German courts. The German Federal Court requested a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice, as it believes that the resolution of the dispute depends on the interpretation of EU law, in particular the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Court Stresses Dentist’s Obligation Under AVG

In its ruling, the Court stressed that the AVG guarantees the patient’s right to receive a free first copy of their medical records, except when the patient has already received a free first copy and requests a new one. The dentist, acting as custodian of the patient’s personal data, is obliged to provide the first copy free of charge, and the patient does not have to justify his request.

Cost of Medical Records and Access to Complete Information

Even when considering the economic interests of health care providers, national regulations cannot impose the cost of the first copy of medical records on the patient. In addition, the patient has the right to obtain a complete copy of all documents in his medical record, especially when necessary to understand the personal data contained therein. This right includes information such as diagnoses, examination results, assessments by treating physicians and details of any treatments or interventions provided.


A preliminary ruling request allows national courts and tribunals to seek clarification from the Court of Justice on the interpretation of EU law or the validity of an EU act in disputes pending before them. The ECJ does not decide the case directly, but directs the national court, and its ruling is binding on similar cases in other national jurisdictions.

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