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 Alberta.
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 theAlberta 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 complaints.