Health Information in Canada: Can Privacy Be Protected?

by Richard Rosenberg

On the privacy front, 2001 may be known as the year of concern about health information privacy. The first phase of Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), often referred to as Bill C-6, came into force on January 1, 2001. It applies to “personal information about customers or employees (except "personal health information") that is collected, used or disclosed by "federal works, undertakings or businesses" in the course of commercial activities.” (Your Privacy Rights, 1999) On January 1, 2002, “The Act will cover any ‘personal health information’ collected by those organizations mentioned in the first stage. Personal health information is information about an individual's mental or physical health, including details about any tests, examinations and health services provided.” (Your Privacy Rights, 1999) The appropriate and effective protection of personal health information is of vital importance to all Canadians. An informed citizenry is a prerequisite to participate in the current debate about the protection of personal health information. To this end, it is necessary to explore the many issues associated with the protection of personal health information. This process involves identifying ethical, legal, and constitutional protections of privacy in general and health privacy in particular, the nature and use of the medical record, and possible threats to the privacy of that record.

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