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N.W.T.'s protection of health records still needs work: privacy commissioner

The Northwest Territories Department of Health has received a slap on the wrist from the territory’s privacy commissioner for the way it handles confidential patient information.

New act gives patients right to restrict access to their records but N.W.T.'s electronic system can't do that

The Northwest Territories Department of Health has received a slap on the wrist from the territory's privacy commissioner for the way it handles confidential patient information.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of the N.W.T's annual report was tabled in the legislative assembly on Friday. In it, commissioner Elaine Keenan-Bengts criticizes the territory's health department for the way it has implemented the N.W.T. Health Information Act that came into effect in October 2015.

The act is meant to govern how personal health information is collected and disclosed. In the six months after the act became law, the commissioner says there were seven separate privacy complaints.

"It is fairly clear from the nature of the breaches being reported and complaints being made to the office that there is much work to be done to ensure compliance with the new obligations," Keenan-Bengts wrote in her report.

She says it's clear that a number of people who deal with private health information don't properly understand the act.

"While there was some training done before the act came into effect, it does not appear that the training was mandatory," Keenan-Bengts wrote.

"It is clear that training was, at best, spotty in some organizations."

Keenan-Bengts also says little has been done to educate the public of their rights when it comes to their personal health information. She says the majority of patients don't know the act gives them the right to put conditions on who has access to their records, such as barring a practitioner, nurse, clerical staff or other employee in any particular office from accessing their file. 

Despite patients having this right, Keenan-Bengts says the health department doesn't actually have the ability to do that.

"The most significant concern is that that the vehicle which the department has chosen to house the electronic medical record does not have the necessary functionality to mask files or block access by one or more individuals to any particular record in order to comply."

Keenan-Bengts recommends better training for health staff on the act as well as better education campaigns for the public. 

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