Ontario to strengthen health privacy laws

In the recent wake of highly publicized incidents involving unauthorized access to patient records, the Ontario government intends to amend the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) to create new measures for the protection of personal health information. In a press release dated June 10, 2015, the government indicated that it would strengthen privacy rules, increase fines and make it easier to prosecute offences under PHIPA.1

What You Need to Know

  • The proposed amendments to PHIPA include the following:
    • mandatory breach reporting obligations to increase accountability and transparency among health information custodians (note that a mandatory reporting regime will be implemented under the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and Ontario will likely look to the federal act for guidance when proposing the PHIPA amendment);
    • doubling the fines for offences from $50,000 to $100,000 for individuals and from $250,000 to $500,000 for organizations as a further deterrent for non-compliance; and  
    • removal of the requirement to commence the prosecution of an offence within 6 months of an alleged privacy breach
  • In addition, the PHIPA amendments would introduce specific requirements and protections for electronic health records.

What’s Next?

The government is expected to publish the text of the proposed amendments in the coming months. Health information custodians should use this opportunity to review their current personal information practices and assess where improvements may be warranted. Organizations should develop robust breach response plans so that they are prepared for the introduction of the mandatory reporting requirements.

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1 See: http://news.ontario.ca/mohltc/en/2015/06/ontario-to-introduce-new-measures-to-protect-patient-privacy.html.

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