British Columbia recently enacted the e-Health (Personal Health Information Access and Protection of Privacy) Act (e-Health Act), which facilitates the creation of consolidated databases of electronic personal health information (Health Information Banks) and is intended to provide patients with “faster, safer, and better health care” by providing health-care professionals with secure access to patients’ information in a timely and effective manner.

Features of the e-Health Act include the following:

  • creating a framework for the creation of Health Information Banks;
  • allowing individuals to exercise control over disclosure of their personal health information, through the issuance of
  • “disclosure directives” by which the individual may request that access to his or her personal health information be blocked;
  • creating a Data Stewardship Committee, whose members are appointed from the healthcare sector, to evaluate request for information in Health Information Banks for research purposes;
  • providing that information obtained from Health Information Banks may not be disclosed for market research purposes;
  • providing whistle-blower protection to ensure timely reporting of any breaches of the legislation; and
  • providing for a maximum fine of $200,000 for breaches of the legislation, including for breach of the privacy protection provisions.

In addition to amending the Health Act, the e-Health Act amends legislation regulating pharmacies and PharmaNet, the current database system used by pharmacists to record and monitor all prescriptions filled in the province.

An important aspect of the e-Health Act is the ability for researchers to access electronic personal health information for research purposes. Researchers’ requests are subject to approval by the Data Stewardship Committee, which may impose additional security and confidentiality requirements on disclosure. For planning and general research, upon approval by the committee, the information requested will be disclosed only after the administrator and the requesting party have entered into an information-sharing agreement. For healthrelated research, the requests are approved on the condition that the information cannot be used for contacting an individual to participate in health research. If a researcher wishes to directly contact the individual whose information has been disclosed, the researcher must receive approval from the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C.

McCarthy Tétrault Notes:

Upon introduction of the proposed legislation, various interest groups raised privacy concerns over the creation of Health Information Banks. After the draft legislation was revised, in part to address such concerns, the e-Health Act was enacted on the last day of the spring legislative session. This makes B.C. the first province in Canada to enact a specific legislative framework governing access and privacy for electronic health information databases. Although the e-Health Act has received royal assent, the substantive provisions have yet to be proclaimed into force.