Canadians want stronger protections for health records

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An overwhelming majority of Canadians believe the government must create strong new systems to protect their personal health information, particularly as an increasing number of patient records are stored electronically, according to survey results released by Canada Health Infoway, Health Canada and the federal privacy commissioner's office.

"Personal health information is seen by Canadians as one of the most important types of information to protect," said Joan Roch, chief privacy strategist of Canada Health Infoway, a non-profit group which receives federal funding to implement electronic health programs across Canada. "This is your most private personal information."

Roch said that hospitals and healthcare centers across Canada are making a transition toward electronic records as a way to ensure experts have access to a patient's complete profile to improve treatment and diagnosis, and reduce error. Nearly 90 percent of Canadians surveyed said they believed electronic records would improve healthcare delivery, while 82 percent said they believed it would help reduce prescription error.

According to the survey, Canadians feel that any electronic system should come equipped with sufficient tools to protect the privacy of individuals. About 80 percent of those questioned said the government should create audit trails of who has access to their health information, while 74 percent said there should be severe penalties for anyone who unlawfully accesses their health information.

Roch said Canada Health Infoway is in the process of developing numerous strategies, such as audit trails and other data protection measures, to ensure health information isn't compromised or unlawfully accessed.

"Canadians expect it. When you're going into an electronic health records system, the nature of the record is changing," Roch said. "It's so important to protect their privacy in this whole exercise."

Canada Health Infoway estimates that half of Canadian patient records will be made electronic by 2010.