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Alberta Commissioner Concerned by Amendments to Health Information Act

Posted Dec 12 2008 1:29pm

In a report released on December 1st, 2008, the Alberta Privacy Commissioner [Frank Work] has expressed concerns about amendments to the Alberta Health Information Act (HIA).

Alberta Netcare is the provincial Electronic Health Record for the province of Alberta.

Work said ”Alberta Netcare is an important part of our health care system. However, these are significant changes that will limit the ability of Albertans to control their health information. If Albertans share these concerns, they should speak up either to the Committee or by writing their MLA.”

The Commissioner has several concerns about the amendments, including:
  • A custodian, such as a doctor, pharmacist or other health service provider, will no longer be required to consider a patient’s wishes about the exchange of health information via Alberta Netcare.
  • The law will allow for the creation of “health information repositories” for research purposes. The Commissioner has concerns related to the use of health information in these repositories, how the repositories will be regulated and what oversight there will be.
  • The Minister can require custodians to make health information available via Alberta Netcare, and do so without submitting a privacy impact assessment to the Commissioner. It is an offence if the information is not made available.
In conclusion, the report states:

"With the repeal of other parts of the HIA in 2003, patients were given no choice but to have their health information made accessible via Netcare. The Commissioner accepted the 2003 amendments because the HIA included other privacy protection measures. Bill 52 would see the removal of these remaining measures. Bill 52 removes patient privacy rights, paves the way for research without patient consent, creates new entities known as information repositories whose role is unclear, and makes it an offence for any health service provider to not make Albertans' health information accessible via Netcare. The Information and Privacy Commissioner strongly encourages AHW to address his concerns with changes to the proposed amendments and as regulations are developed"

Click here to download a copy of report from the Alberta Privacy Commissioner website (.pdf)

What we are beginning to see is the impact taking place between policy decisions, governance, technical capability (or limitations) and the need to drive value from the significant investments that have been made in the Electronic Health Record systems.

We have seen similar issues arise in the UK with regard to the National Program for IT (NPfIT) being led by the NHS. What are your thoughts? Do you believe that we are moving too fast? Are these 'collisions' inevitable and is it a matter of accepting that we need to push the boundaries in order to effect change? Should we be taking a more flexible approach that allows us to learn from errors and re-adjust without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

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