More and more doctors across Canada are using electronic medical records to keep track of their patients’ health information. Finding a patient’s information record in most electronic medical databases involves entering the first few letters of each name, hitting <Enter> and choosing the appropriate person from the resulting drop-down list.
Recently while looking up one of my patients, I found his granddaughter, with dates and reasons for her visits, on the list. She’s no longer in my practice and I didn’t click on her name, but I inadvertently learned more about her recent medical history than I had a right to know.
Which got me thinking. Will the (yet to be rolled out) provincial diabetes registry operate this way? Will Rosalita Fortuna’s (invented name) health care providers be able to see if a certain large municipal politician has diabetes when they’re querying the database?
Secure repositories protect privacy only as well as does their sloppiest/nosiest/least scrupulous user. Tens of thousands of health care providers (and IT support staff) are going to have access to millions of records. Already we’ve heard stories of disks and USB drives going missing, of ex-partners mining health records to bolster custody battles etc etc.
Worse still is that consent for enrollment in these large, accessible databases is assumed. A person with diabetes, for example, would have had to seen, been able to read, understand, and have acted upon the “Important Notice Regarding Your Personal Health Information” posted by the government in order to restrict sharing of their data. Even when someone withdraws consent, their personal information remains in the registry, only access is limited. As far as I can determine, patients are not notified when their data is viewed.
In 1999 chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems, Scott MacNealy, said “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Will that be true for our health care information?