Recent amendments to Alberta's Health Information
Act, and related regulations, come into force
on September 1, 2010. The amendments touch on a range of issues
including the applicability of the statute, sharing of electronic
health records, the creation of health information repositories and
additional investigative powers for the Information and Privacy Commissioner of
On September 1, 2010, new legislation pertaining to health
information comes into force in Alberta. The Health Information
Act (Act), which provides "custodians" of health
information a framework within which to manage the collection, use
and disclosure of patients' health information, and associated regulations
will be amended in four significant ways. First, by reason of an
amendment to the definition of "custodian", the Act will
now apply to privately-funded health services. Previously, among
health care service providers, only those paid under the Alberta
Health Care Insurance Plan were considered "custodians"
and thus bound by the Act. Second, the amendments create regulation
for Alberta Netcare, a
means of storing and sharing electronic health records. Most
controversially, health professionals can be compelled to make
certain elements of their patients' health information
accessible to other custodians via Alberta Netcare. Those elements
of health information are enumerated in section 4 of the Alberta Electronic Health Record
Regulation and include uniquely identifying
personal demographic information, immunizations, key clinical
events, laboratory results and "other medial reports".
There are two circumstances in which health professionals can be
compelled in this manner. Either a professional governing body
(such as the Alberta Medical Association) can mandate disclosure or
the Minister responsible for the Act can do so if "it is in
the public interest". The Minister, however, may only compel
the disclosure upon consultation with the relevant professional
governing body and after preparing a privacy impact assessment
reviewed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta.
The third significant amendment establishes "health
information repositories". The role of these entities is
unclear but the amendments provide that their powers and duties may
be further clarified in regulations. The amendments do state,
however, that custodians of health information may disclose
individually identifying information to these repositories. Lastly,
the amendments confer on the Information and Privacy Commissioner
of Alberta the additional power to exchange information and enter
into agreements with other provincial privacy commissioners to
coordinate activities and investigate multi-jurisdictional
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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