Advisory for trustees about responding to individuals’ access requests under PHIA during the COVID-19 pandemic
The presence of COVID-19 in Manitoba is affecting the operations and staff levels of trustees’ offices and organizations. Trustees should make efforts to comply with PHIA as is reasonably possible. However, this is an exceptional circumstance and we understand that trustees may be unable to meet the response requirements under PHIA and this will have an impact on individuals’ right to timely access to their personal health information.
Manitoba Ombudsman offers the following guidance to trustees for responding to access requests from individuals:
- If your office is closed due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, inform your patients/clients of how they can make access requests for their personal health information by posting a note on your office door and on your website and informing people in your voice mail greeting. Provide patients/clients with contact information, such as a phone number to call to make access requests, where possible.
- Keep track of every request for personal health information, such as in a ‘request log’, so you can monitor the progress of responding to each request. This can help you to track any requests you cannot fulfill in whole or in part at this time, so you can respond further at a later time.
- If you receive a verbal request, such as by phone, document relevant details about the request (date, contact information of the individual, description of personal health information they are requesting).
- Upon receiving an access request, assess your ability to provide the individual with access to all, part, or none of the requested personal health information. If you can provide access to part of the requested information, proceed to do so in a timely manner, rather than waiting until all of the information is ready to release to the individual. Also, if an individual is requesting a copy of all of their personal health information, consider whether you can prioritize giving copies of more current information, even if it will take longer to compile less current information.
- Communicate with the individual about your ability to process the access request, the records that you may or may not be able to provide access to, and any delays that you may be experiencing in responding to the request. Provide the individual with updates on the status of processing their request. Maintain a record of your communications with individuals, to help you keep track of processing their requests.
- While PHIA permits a trustee to charge a reasonable fee for providing access, consider waiving part or all of the fee so it is not a barrier for an individual to obtain their health information. This would also be a matter of fairness to an individual given that your response to their request may not be as timely or fulsome as required by PHIA at this time.
- Periodically review your request log to reassess your ability to process previously received requests that you were unable to fulfill in whole or in part, so you can respond further when you are able to do so.
If trustees have any questions about the above, please contact our office by phone or email. Please be aware that our office’s responses may also be delayed due to the pandemic.
The Personal Health Information Act (PHIA) came into force on December 11, 1997. It was the first legislation of its kind in Canada designed specifically to provide access to information rights and protection of privacy rights concerning personal health information. Significant amendments to PHIA came into effect on May 1, 2010, and January 1, 2011.
PHIA applies to "trustees": health professionals, health-care facilities, public bodies and health services agencies that collect or maintain personal health information. The act governs an individual's access to his or her own personal health information held by trustees and sets out requirements that trustees must follow to protect the privacy of personal health information.
For more information on the legislation, see the Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living (MHSAL) PHIA pages at http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/phia/index.html that include brief summaries on PHIA and trustee guides.
MHSAL has developed a PHIA Online Training Program to assist trustees in complying with PHIA. For information about this program, please see https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/phia/training.html
Users of our website are cautioned that our guides to and summaries of the legislation are not exhaustive. The original text should be consulted for all purposes of interpreting and applying the law. Our opinions, comments and recommendations are based on substantive investigation, research and analysis, but we are not legal counsel or a court of law.