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Why Patients Shouldn’t Have To Worry About Their Privacy No Matter Who They Are

When you see a doctor you should feel confident that your personal health information is confidential and protected.

We frequently talk about the importance of a strong physician-patient relationship in the delivery of high-quality patient care. The foundation of this relationship is trust.

You must trust that your doctor keeps your conversations, the nature of your visit and your personal information confidential. The doctor must trust that you are being fully honest with them and providing all the information they need to provide the best possible care for you.

The trust between a physician and their patient goes both ways.

Without this trust, your care may be compromised.

NFL Player’s Private Health Information Made Public
On July 8, 2015, Adam Schefter, a self-identified NFL Insider for ESPN tweeted a screen-capture image of the New York Giants Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul’s (JPP) medical records.

Hundreds of people across America replied to the tweet expressing distaste and anger over the blatant violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “the HIPAA Privacy Rule provides federal protections for individually identifiable health information held by covered entities and their business associates and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information. At the same time, the Privacy Rule is balanced so that it permits the disclosure of health information needed for patient care and other important purposes.”

In addition, the department states, “The Security Rule specifies a series of administrative, physical, and technical safeguards for covered entities and their business associates to use to assure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information.”

One of those “important purposes” surely isn’t to inform Adam Schefter’s 3.86 million Twitter followers.

That is of course, assuming JPP didn’t give his doctor permission to release his electronic medical records or any medical information to the media.

Physicians and other care providers, under HIPPA, cannot disclose a patient’s medical records without the patient’s consent unless for the purpose of patient care.

Nova Scotia’s Doctors Take Their Role of Protecting Patient Information Seriously
In Nova Scotia, we have the Personal Health Information Act (PHIA), which governs the collection, use, disclosure, retention, disposal and destruction of personal health information.

PHIA was proclaimed on December 4, 2012 and came into force on June 1, 2013.

What is PHIA?
PHIA was developed specifically for the management of health care information in Nova Scotia, including information generated and/or used for direct patient care, public health, planning and management of the health system, and research.

The Act recognizes both the right of individuals to the protection of their personal health information and the need of custodians to collect, use and disclose personal health information to provide, support and manage health care. Physicians in Nova Scotia must comply with PHIA and regulations.

The goal of PHIA is to have a comprehensive, consistent, and clear set of rules to help personal health information flow efficiently and effectively among health care providers. PHIA is intended to balance the individual’s rights to privacy with health-care providers’ need to share information to treat patients.

PHIA is enforceable in the courts of Nova Scotia. Penalties may apply for offences under the Act. If a person is found guilty of collecting, using, disclosing or gaining or attempting to gain access to health information in contravention of the Act and regulation, fines can be levied against individuals and organizations.

Similar legislation has already been introduced in most provinces in Canada.

Your Rights Under PHIA
Under PHIA you, as a patient, have the right to:

Nova Scotians should feel confident that their personal health information is being protected.

“Physicians value patient privacy and put as much importance on keeping records private as they do in making the right diagnosis and giving the right treatment,” said Dr. Mike Wadden, family physician in Kentville, N.S.

Like more than 900 physicians in Nova Scotia, Dr. Wadden uses an electronic medical record in his practice. He understands the importance of keeping patient records secure and patient information private.

“Electronically exchanging health information is much more secure than the old system of mailing or faxing paper or having notes and charts left on desks,” said Dr. Wadden.

“The records must be kept in a secure way so that they cannot be copied or stolen. This means computers need to be password protected and the information needs to be encrypted and stored in another location with access restricted to those permitted to access it by PHIA and the patient.”

In a world where technology is changing rapidly, it’s more important than ever that physicians and patients understand the laws of privacy and their rights.

Whether you’re a defensive end for a professional football team or a regular citizen, your rights matter and doctors need to take your privacy seriously. And we do.

We hope you share this article with your friends and family so they too can be aware of their rights.

Related: Four Reasons Why a Good Relationship with Your Family Doctor Is Good For Your Health

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