Don’t do the wrong thing when trying to do the right thing
Those working in health professions understandably need to have high standards. When they observe a behavior of a colleague that is concerning or there are working conditions that impact patient care or safety, it is necessary to take steps to correct the situation. This can include raising concerns with a professional body or a union.
So, if you are a health professional you might wonder what personal health information you can give to a professional oversight body or a union when you raise your concerns.
The answer is NONE!
The Health Information Protection Act (HIPA) does have provisions that allow the disclosure of personal health information to professional bodies and unions in certain circumstances. However, before the information is disclosed by the trustee with custody or control of the personal health information, care must be taken to ensure that the requirements in these provisions are aligned with the circumstances surrounding the potential disclosure.
Now you might have noticed that I have bolded and underlined the phrase “by the trustee with custody or control of the personal health information” in the paragraph above. That is because the decision to disclose personal health information rests with the trustee and not individual employees.
That means that If you are a health professional working for a trustee that is an organization (such as the Provincial Health Authority, a clinic, a dental office, an ambulance operator, etc) the decision to disclose is up to those within the organization that have the responsibility for HIPA.
In the past year, the Commissioner has issued two reports that found that health professionals did not use proper channels to resolve their concerns. This resulted in unauthorized disclosures of personal health information. (Investigation Report 021-2017, 067-2017 & 068-2017 and Investigation Report 077-2017)
So what do you do if you have a such a concern and personal health information is the evidence?
First, it is best to bring up your concerns within your organization. Start with your supervisor. Together you can navigate your organization’s protocols and get in contact with those in the organization with responsibility for HIPA to determine if it is necessary to access the personal health information and/or advance it to a professional body or union. Alternatively, perhaps there is a union representative or a chief medical officer within your organization that could also address your concerns.
If your concerns have fallen on deaf ears or you don’t feel you can raise your concerns within your organization, you are still not authorized to disclose personal health information. Tell your story to the college or union in general terms without specifics. If the college or union asks for the actual personal health information, remind it that you are not authorized to disclose it. The professional body or the union would then have to approach the trustee in order to carry on with its work.