Are Your Medical Records Really Private? - Diamond and Diamond Lawyers
  • Friday, 06 February 2015

Are Your Medical Records Really Private?

Personal privacy is as important as ever. We live in a world where information about anyone, anywhere can be found with only a few clicks. However, we could always count on our medical records to remain private.

This may not be true. The Toronto Star recently reported that hundred of hospital privacy violations have gone unreported.  As a result, Brian Beamish, Ontario’s acting privacy commissioner, is calling for legislative changes to make it more difficult for hospitals to handle internal privacy breaches internally.

Under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) hospitals may handle privacy violations internally, including disciplining and sometimes sacking staff members, without alerting the commission.

Currently, Toronto’s biggest health institutions handle privacy breaches at the hospital administration level rather than reporting it to the province. Of the 218 privacy breaches uncovered by the Star, most occurred at just eight hospitals in Toronto.

According to Michael Crystal, a lawyer representing patients in five major privacy class actions against Ontario hospitals, backed legislative change. “Privacy breaches can range from loose lips in the coffee line to more odious examples, where hospital employees maliciously access sensitive medical information relating to abortions, suicide attempts or queries into sexual re-assignment surgery”, said Crystal.

One case involves five staff members browsing through 22 medical records at CAMH last year. In a severe instance, it was reported that an abusive husband was able to find his wife using medical records:

“One patient was in hiding from her abusive husband and believed he had bribed a hospital employee to access her personal information and learn which shelter she was staying in. “

If hospitals were obligated under law to report privacy violations, the commission would be able to identify trends, investigate specific areas of concern and help hospitals prevent future incidents, Beamish said.

According to another Toronto Star article, Ontario lags behind its peers in updating health privacy laws. Any changes to legislation are a welcome addition.

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