A recent comment posted on the Aged Care Advocacy Facebook Group raised an important question about family members gaining access to an aged care resident’s doctor’s contact details.

The question posed was:

“Is the daughter of an aged care resident allowed to ask the aged care facility for their mother’s doctor’s contact details? Is the aged care facility allowed to refuse the contact details?”

The post attracted dozens of comments with strong arguments on both sides.

One person replied that family “most certainly” should be allowed to have doctor contact details, but a doctor who works in a residential aged care facility said she doesn’t give family her contact details, and that it’s better for the facility to try to address any family concerns before she gets involved.

With the matter seemingly undecided, we sought clarification from the Australian Medical Association.

The patient decides, says AMA ethics Chair

Dr Chris Moy, the Chair of the AMA’s Ethics and Medico-Legal Committee, told HelloCare the patient should decide if the family should be given the doctor’s contact details.

“If a patient has decision-making capacity, they decide,” he said.

If the patients no longer has the capacity, then a substitute decision maker can make the call, Dr Moy said.

“If the patient has impaired decision-making capacity, a SDM appointed by the patient, under an advance care directive for example, or by a statutory authority, should decide as the SDM ‘becomes’ the patient,” he said.

No other family members have an automatic right to access the doctor’s details, Dr Moy said.

“Other individuals, including other relatives, have no extra right to access private information regarding a patient, including the patient’s doctor’s details, if the patient or SDM do not want this to occur.”

Family members don’t always have the resident’s best interests at heart

Dr Moy said family members can sometimes have ulterior motives, such as their own financial gain.

“This happens,” Dr Moy said.

Aged care residents “may want these individuals excluded from this information because they know that these individuals will try to contact the doctor to try to influence them in a malicious way or for self-interested reasons, eg to gain financial advantage,” he said.

“Individual jurisdictions or facilities may have particular policies, but they would still have to come under privacy principles, and the patient or SDM would still have to be clear about these when signing up for the facility,” Dr Moy concluded.

Please note: The image used to illustrate this article does not reflect actual people or events. Image: iStock.

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