The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alberta Commissioner confirms right to have personal health information masked 

The Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner's office, in Investigation Report H2008-IR-001, has confirmed that individuals have the right to have their personal health information masked and its distribution restricted on Alberta Netcare:

Investigation confirms Albertans' right to ask custodians to limit disclosure of health information through Alberta Netcare

May 15, 2008Investigation confirms Albertans' right to ask custodians to limit disclosure of health information through Alberta NetcareInformation and Privacy Commissioner, Frank Work, has confirmed that individuals can ask that disclosure of their health information through Alberta Netcare, Alberta’s electronic health record, be limited. On conclusion of a recent investigation, it was recommended that Alberta Health and Wellness take steps to fully implement the technology that will allow custodians to limit the disclosure of health information through Alberta Netcare and communicate the availability of this option to Netcare users and Albertans.

The case involves a woman who asked her pharmacist to limit the disclosure of her health information through Alberta Netcare, but was told the pharmacist could not refuse to disclose information to AHW. The woman then contacted AHW to request that her information be “masked” in Alberta Netcare, but was directed to make her request to other custodians.

The Health Information Act (HIA) section 58(2) requires custodians to consider the expressed wishes of individuals when deciding how much health information to disclose. AHW has decided to manage expressed wishes in Alberta Netcare by masking information. Masked information is hidden until an authorized user who is providing care to a patient decides to unmask the information.

The investigation found that AHW built masking capabilities into Alberta Netcare as early as 2006, but did not did not formalize the processes required to allow Netcare users to apply masking until April 2008. The investigation also found that AHW had not adequately communicated the availability of masking as a means to manage an individual’s expressed wishes to health care providers nor had they developed the administrative tools required to fully support implementation of masking.

Mr. Work says “While I commend Health and Wellness for building important privacy features like masking into the system, it is not very useful to develop a masking system and not support its implementation or advise end users that it is available to them. In principle, AHW’s approach to masking information in Alberta Netcare is sound but implementation has been weak. The Department acknowledges this gap and has committed to developing an enhanced masking implementation plan for my review and comment before the end of the month. We will continue to work with AHW on this issue.”

Other recommendations that have been accepted by AHW include the recommendation to respond to the complainant’s request that her information be masked and expand Alberta Netcare communications materials to inform and educate patients about how a masking request can be made. The Department has taken immediate steps to implement these recommendations.

The investigation report and its recommendations can be found at

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