Privacy Legislation to Improve Protection of Health Information

GOVTSaskatchewan residents will benefit from strengthened protection of personal health records and increased accountability of trustees and employees responsible for protecting those records, effective June 1.  Trustees are individuals and organizations that have personal health information under their custody and control.

Amendments to The Health Information Protection Act (HIPA) result from government’s support of recommendations from the Health Records Protection Working Group.  The group’s report, released in 2014, included recommended changes to HIPA to help enforce trustees’ responsibilities under the Act, to address possible gaps in the legislation, and to put a system in place to deal with the discovery of unsecured health records.

“We take seriously our responsibility to protect the privacy of Saskatchewan residents’ personal health information,” Health Minister Dustin Duncan said.  “I want to thank the working group for their commitment to ensuring patient records are kept secure and confidential.  We share that commitment and are making the changes needed to strengthen the privacy of personal health records of Saskatchewan residents.”

“There are few things more personal than health records, and we recognize that the safeguards on this information require constant review and, when necessary, change,” Justice Minister and Attorney General Gordon Wyant said.  “This new legislation ensures that the organizations responsible for Saskatchewan’s health records are accountable to the people of this province.”

Amendments to HIPA include:

  • Strict liability offence:  If records are found unsecured, the trustee responsible for the records would need to show they took all reasonable steps to prevent the abandonment.  Sometimes called the “reverse onus” clause, it means the Crown would not have to prove the trustee intended to abandon the records, rather that they did not take all reasonable steps to protect them.
  • Individual offence for willful disclosure of personal information:  This change will make it clear that HIPA offences for intentional disclosure of personal health information apply not only to trustees, but to individuals who are employees of trustees.
  • Snooping offence:  A specific offence will be established for inappropriate use of personal health information by employees who access information without a need for that information.
  • Take control of abandoned records:  A specific provision will be added to HIPA for a system to be put in place to quickly respond to a discovery of abandoned or unsecured records and to take control of the records.

The government is currently developing the regulatory and policy framework to address the remaining recommendations made by the Health Records Protection Working Group, including control and storage of abandoned records, archive and private record storage solutions, and clarifying the definition of “trustee” for physician practice arrangements.

The Health Records Protection Working Group was formed in 2012 after a large number of medical records was found abandoned in a Regina dumpster.

The working group included members from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Saskatchewan Medical Association, College of Pharmacists, Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association, a patient representative, and the Ministries of Justice and Health.

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