These general privacy rights recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and the traditional protections offered by doctors’ legal and ethical duties of confidence are currently threatened by massive changes to the way health care is provided in BC. In this section, we look at your personal health information privacy rights within the BC health care system, and specifically consider how new projects to build large health information databases and connect many electronic systems infringe those rights.

In the health sector in British Columbia there are two privacy laws which apply – the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies to government bodies including hospitals, health authorities and clinics; and the Personal Information Protection Act applies to the private sector offices of doctors and other health care professionals, and to private clinics and labs. Both of these privacy laws require that:

  1. your personal health information be kept confidential and secure from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification or destruction;
  2. you can get access to your personal health information upon request;
  3. you can request that your personal health information be corrected.

You also have the right to consent or to refuse consent to whether your personal health information is collected, used and disclosed when your doctor or other health care professional is giving you treatment or care.

In most cases you will not be asked for your consent when you are seen by a health professional for treatment or care (except perhaps at an initial visit when you fill out forms to be kept in your file), or when it is sent to another doctor you’ve been referred to, because your consent is assumed.

You must give specific instructions to your health care provider if you do not want your personal health information shared with others, or if you want to make sure it is not seen by a particular person.

These consent rights are threatened by new technological developments and by new laws, which are discussed in more detail below.

You do not have any consent rights when your personal health information is collected, used or disclosed for health system management or administrative purposes (such as for the provincial insurance plan, or investigations into medical error, or for public health purposes), nor when your personal health information is made anonymous and then used for research purposes. You do not have a right to refuse to have your prescription information put into the PharmaNet system.

You do have a right to make a complaint to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC if you believe that your rights under either privacy law have been infringed. Generally it is recommended that you first go to the doctor or organization and try to work out your complaint directly. If that fails, then you may make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. It is a good idea to know which privacy law applies in your circumstances, and the Privacy Commissioner’s office will provide you with some assistance, if you are not sure which law applies. Find out which law applies to your situation: