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NB releases Personal Health Information report

FREDERICTON – Health Minister Michael Murphy (pictured) has released the report of the New Brunswick Task Force on Personal Health Information, entitled Balancing Privacy Rights and Access Requirements. The task force, co-chaired by former senior civil servants Kevin Malone and Jean-Guy Finn, was created in May to consult with New Brunswickers and advise the minister on new legislation to regulate the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information.

“The recommendations in the report strike a good balance between the protection of personal health information (PHI) and the need to use this information appropriately in order to improve patient care and, secondarily, better manage our healthcare system,” Murphy said. “Among its key recommendations are the need for a single set of rules to apply to the use and protection of personal health information, as well as the creation of a new information and privacy commissioner to enforce this and other privacy and information laws.”

In New Brunswick, there are two main pieces of legislation – the provincial Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) and the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA) – that govern the collection, use and disclosure of health and non-health related personal information in the public and private sectors, respectively.

“POPIA and PIPEDA are laws of general application,” states the report. “They have not been designed to deal specifically with PHI issues. It is our view that they are not adequate to address emerging issues regarding access to and confidentiality of such information.”

Murphy said he will follow through on the recommendation for a new stand-alone law that is dedicated to the protection of personal health information. “Our government will draft and introduce this legislation during the spring sitting of the legislature,” he said. “We need to move now in order to ensure the proper legislation is in place to coincide with major advances we are making in the development and use of information technology, including an electronic health record for all New Brunswickers.”

The report says New Brunswick will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to develop legislation specific to the protection and use of personal health information since interest and investment in electronic health records (EHRs) has escalated across the country.

“Given the significance an EHR can play in the provision of care and in health system management, as well as its potentially far-reaching implications for privacy, we advise that New Brunswick’s health information legislation expressly authorize the collection, use and disclosure of PHI for the purpose of the creation and maintenance of an EHR,” the report recommends.

Murphy said he agrees with the co-chairs that rapid advancements in the use of information technology cannot be allowed to outpace legislation that protects the confidentiality of personal health information.

“Advancements like the creation and use of electronic health records enable health providers and administrators to improve patient care and health system performance through the rapid sharing of personal health information,” the minister said. “These advancements are matched by an obligation to properly use and protect information, and that’s why we will take the legislative steps necessary to safeguard a person’s right to privacy.”

Other recommendations include:

• Authorizing in legislation the use of personal health information for the purpose of drug monitoring programs aimed at addressing the misuse of prescription drugs;

• Allowing patients to access their own personal health information at no cost; Establishing an Information and Privacy Commissioner with jurisdiction over related issues extending beyond personal health information;

• Establishing rules by which patients give consent for the disclosure of their personal health information for specific uses;

• Developing the legislation so that it is “substantially similar” to the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to ensure healthcare providers in the province are governed by one set of rules.

In total, the co-chairs made 31 recommendations. The report of the New Brunswick Task Force on Personal Health Information can be found at or by visiting the Department of Health website at