Make your experience count.
May 9, 2012 - Last week we went to the Western Canada Health Information Privacy Symposium in Calgary. The participants were largely people who were in one way or another responsible for safeguarding the privacy of patients. In recent years many of the provinces have enacted Freedom of Information laws that are also meant to protect the privacy of patients. They have also appointed privacy commissioners to make sure the new laws are followed. The main reason for the laws has been the concern that there is an increased risk of breaches of privacy as health records are computerized.
In the old days there would be small scandals when out-dated patient records were abandoned by retiring doctors and found in empty offices or dumpsters. These days there are more possibilities - someone loses a laptop, an electronic health record system is hacked, or de-identified records become reconnected with their owners without proper authority. The scandals could be even greater.
These are valid concerns, and it is good to have people thinking about them. But the other part of the laws – which includes access to information by the patients themselves - has not been pursued with as much vigour. Patient privacy is better protected, but few patients have easy access to their own electronic medical records, or even their test results.
Our fear is that the privacy laws have created yet another special interest group that enforces laws which may make it even harder for patients to achieve what we want from the advances in information and communication technology. Particularly, access to our records, the ability to contact our physicians online, the ability to renew prescriptions online, and the opportunity to make appointments online.
At the conference there were those who recognized that they are ultimately responsible for the improved flow of electronic information for the benefit of patients across the numerous boundaries of the health system. We hope that they will take up the challenge to find ways to make the information flow better.
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