Medical and health records are created primarily to provide patient care or improve the health of our society. They give a reliable account of events over a specific period of time, allowing efficient communication between health professionals in the interest of the patient or community.
Information that has been preserved at the Archives of Ontario after its primary function has expired is used by many people other than those in the original circle of care.
This admission form to the psychiatric hospital in Toronto in 1864 provides the age, occupation, place of birth, place of residence, and other details about the patient.
We can sympathize with the supposed “cause of the present attack” stated here as “Loss of wife, failure in business, & disappointment in love.”
Institutions such as the provincial psychiatric hospitals were communities where some patients stayed for many years. Mental illness in the family was often considered shameful and not discussed, so these records may be the only source of family information for later generations.
Medical records at the Archives are sometimes used to ensure the accountability of practitioners and institutions or for legal purposes. Police officers and former inmates of government institutions have conducted research at the Archives of Ontario to investigate cases of abuse or patient rights.
Health records have been used as evidence to support litigation or claims for compensation, and in the context of provincial inquiries.
or example many individuals and organizations in the health care field were among those who provided records to the Walkerton Inquiry, including the local Board of Health, Ministry of Health, and others. The Archives of Ontario was also those called upon to provide information. It now holds the records of the Walkerton Inquiry and makes them available for public access.
Medical researchers use archival records to study topics such as disease patterns and the effect of treatments over time. Those researching the relationship between genetics and disease try to establish a detailed family history documenting the mental and physical health of all blood relatives in the family tree. This methodology is being used in the research on hereditary factors and schizophrenia.
Policy makers and legislators use health information in order to make informed choices regarding plans and decisions about all aspects of our health care system. For example, statutes and regulations about health and safety issues are introduced following research and analysis of medical and other records.
One of the early industrial diseases to be designated under the Workmen’s Compensation Act was silicosis, declared an industrial disease for compensation purposes in 1926. Annual chest x-ray examinations were required for all underground miners beginning in 1928.
Insurance providers use medical records to assess claims, and they establish rates based on statistics compiled from health records. Statistical health records are also used by health economists, planners, and policy analysts.
Medical records are sometimes used in teaching, so that practitioners-in-training can learn from the work of others or gain knowledge about the history of the health care professions. The Archives has a collection of historical records from Ontario pharmacies that was used by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Pharmacy. It includes pharmacy prescriptions, recipe books, medical almanacs, and other material.
Researchers such as filmmakers and set designers have found the Archives of Ontario’s photographs a valuable resource for illustrating the correct uniform or typical furnishings of a medical environment at a specific time period.