In health-care delivery, ensuring that the right information about the right person gets to the right health-care professional at the right time is critical. The consent provisions of the Personal Health Information Act (PHIA) are designed to help information flow efficiently.
The basic rule in PHIA is that an individual’s “knowledgeable implied consent” is required in order for their physician to collect, use and share the patient’s personal health information. In other words, a patient must be capable of making decisions and must voluntarily agree to letting the physician handle their personal health information. The patient’s consent relates only to the issue at hand, and the patient must understand why the information is being collected.
In most cases, physicians inform their patients about how information will be gathered and used by hanging a notice or a poster in their offices. By providing written notice of the reasons for collecting, using and disclosing personal health information, the physician has provided sufficient explanation to the individual in most cases. If an individual has limited ability to read and understand the notice – possibly because of a language barrier, limited literacy or a physical disability – the physician may also provide a verbal explanation.
Here’s an example. Mary is 35 years old, and she’s visiting her family physician because she has a sore throat and a fever. While she’s in the waiting room, she sees a “notice of purposes” poster explaining the health-care purposes for which the physician collects, uses and discloses personal health information. Mary then proceeds to detail her complaint to her physician, who decides to do a throat swab. The physician has achieved knowledgeable implied consent from Mary for the collection, use and disclosure of her personal health information.
Once knowledgeable implied consent is achieved to treat an individual for a specific illness or injury, the custodian has the individual’s consent to share that information with another custodian involved in the individual’s health care for the specific illness or injury. This is sometimes described as the circle of care. When the physician sends the throat swab to the lab for analysis, or sends the test results to a specialist, they are disclosing Mary’s personal health information within the circle of care and with her consent according to PHIA. This ability to share personal health information changes only if the individual revokes consent or if a new ailment is being treated.
For more information about the Personal Health Information Act, click here.
Do you have questions about PHIA? Ask them in the comments box below, and we’ll address them in a future blog post.