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Understanding the Importance of Patient Privacy

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Posted May 4th, 2016 in Articles, General

Understanding the Importance of Patient Privacy

Patient privacy is a key concern in the health care system, and it is something that we do not take lightly at The Medical Station. Today we explore the importance of patient privacy and confidentiality, and what our North York clinic is doing to ensure we foster a secure and trustful environment for our patients and clients.


Why is privacy so important in health care?

Privacy is a core tenet of the Canadian health care system – without it, our system would not work as effectively or efficiently, if at all. Ensuring patient privacy is crucial for a number of reasons. Firstly, the patient must always be at the centre of the care provided. Physicians and other care providers must respect each patient’s autonomy, rights, and desires – many of which centre on privacy.

Secondly, privacy and confidentiality are necessary in establishing an open and trusting relationship between the patient and the physician. This is crucial in order to provide quality care. It is important that the patient feels comfortable sharing any and all health related information so that the physician and patient can make the best care decisions together. If trust is absent, the patient will be less likely or comfortable to disclose information.

Delivering effective healthcare is dependent on this relationship between the patient and physician. This can only happen when the patient feels confident knowing their information will be kept confidential and private.

Privacy and confidentiality, though applied to all patients without discrimination, may be especially important for certain types of health information or certain patients. For example, releasing personal health information related to a genetic predisposition may result in an individual facing discrimination in the labour market. Maintaining privacy is also extremely important when working with vulnerable populations, such as youth, who may not want their information shared with their parents.

Medicine is based on four key ethical principles: beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice. Ensuring and protecting patient privacy aligns with, and works towards achieving, all four.  

Understanding PHIPA

The main legislation protecting patient privacy in Ontario is PHIPA, the Personal Health Information Protection Act. PHIPA, which came into force in 2004, is the provincial law in Ontario that governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal health information. It is mandated and overseen by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, which acts independently from the government. 

The impetus for the creation of PHIPA was, and continues to be, to protect patient privacy and prevent patient harm. It offers guidelines for how physicians, and other care providers and health information custodians must handle personal health information, as well as empowers patients with the right to request access to and correction of personal health information.

The Medical Station Works to Protect Patient Privacy

Protecting patient privacy is of utmost importance to The Medical Station. Our physicians and staff have taken many steps to fulfill the legal, professional, and ethical commitment to privacy and confidentiality. Some of the measures we have undertaken include:

  • Fully complying with PHIPA legislation
  • Providing comprehensive consent forms to patients to ensure they understand and are aware of how we manage and protect their personal health information. You can read our privacy policy here
  • Utilizing secure and encrypted software as much as possible
  • Providing warnings when electronic communication is not secure       

At The Medical Station protecting patient privacy is part of our commitment to integrity. Rest assured that we are taking care of your personal health information and always considering privacy and confidentiality. This is especially true as we move into the digital age – with online booking and use of email communications.

If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions related to our privacy practices and protocols, please let us know. For more information, related to patient privacy in Ontario, check out the following resources from the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario and the Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

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