Optometrists and midwives will be among a new group of health professionals required by law to take measures to protect patient records, starting Sept. 1.
The Health Information Act, which regulates what doctors, pharmacists and hospitals do with patient records and health information, is expanding those regulations to include optometrists, midwives, opticians, chiropractors, podiatrists and denturists.
Brian Hamilton, investigator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, said the provincial act will see the addition of various health professionals over the next year or more.
“They will be required to take measures to protect patient records,” said Hamilton. “They will have to respond to requests from patients to get access to their information.”
In early March, dentists and dental hygienists will be covered under the Health Information Act and six months later, nurses will be included. That’s what is known so far, Hamilton said.
Lacombe denturist John Gain said his office is already protecting the privacy of patient records.
If his current patients request a copy of their health information, Gain said he’s obliged to give it.
“They’re entitled to it and before we can share it with anyone, we have to get their permission,” Gain said.
Protecting the privacy of individuals concerning their health information and protecting the confidentiality of that information is paramount within the Health Information Act. Violators can be fined up to $50,000.
Earlier this week, a Red Deer doctor was found to be in violation of the Health Information Act after 10 boxes of older records were accidentally left behind during an office move. Dr. Anthony Ford, on behalf of himself and four other doctors in the clinic, has since conducted an inventory, flagged all records that fell out of his custody and is prepared to answer any questions from patients. The privacy commissioner’s office believes the risk to patients was low.
Hamilton said the Health Information Act does allow for a doctor to pass patient records onto another, if they are retiring or selling a practice.
“An agreement is made with the new physician that they will take on these new records,” said Hamilton. “There is legislation in place, but it’s not enforced to deal with the unusual situations where someone abandons a practice or they suddenly die without having any arrangements.”
The amended Health Professions Act, which has passed but must still be proclaimed, would allow the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to take custody of those abandoned records.
John Swiniarski, assistant registrar with the college, said this amended act would work in the case of a doctor in a solo practice who dies suddenly. The college would become the default custodian and patients could access their records, Swiniarski said.
Swiniarski said the regulations, which would apply to different health professionals, must still be written around the amendment.
As it stands, people typically report any abandoned or orphaned records to the privacy commissioner’s office.
“What we try to do is find somebody who is willing to take on those records, like a new physician in the area,” Hamilton said.
The Health Professions Act will apply to all regulated health professions, such as chiropractors, physiotherapists and nurses. If someone is concerned about an abandoned or orphaned record, they can call the privacy commissioner’s office. Once the act is proclaimed, individuals are urged to call the professional college affiliated with the matter, Hamilton said.