On October 20, the Ontario government introduced amendments to Bill 122, the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act. The basic purpose of the act itself is to promote a higher level of accountability within the public sector. The changes introduce new standards for accountability and reporting for hospitals, local health networks, school boards, colleges and universities, and other public sector organizations receiving greater than $10 million in annual public funding. The bill is expected to pass by November 30, 2011.
Bill 122 materially extends the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) for both public and private health care facilities. The Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) regulates access to personal information. Under the extended FIPPA legislation, the general public will gain a right of access to their institutional records, unless they are specifically excluded, or subject to an exemption of access.
Hospitals and other organizations will have until January 1, 2012 to implement new procedures to meet these expanded requirements, including the training of staff. Management and staff need to be aware and cognizant of the requirements of the Act. The new legislation applies to all records in custody or under control of the affected organizations after January 1, 2007. Ensuring compliance with FIPPA is mandatory, and the responsibility of the chair of the organizations’ Board of Directors.
It is worth noting that email messages are considered information records under the Act, and are subject to the same provisions, exemptions and exclusions as any other record, unless they fall into one of the exclusions outlined in the Act. Emails containing personal information must be protected and dealt with in accordance with FIPPA.
There is no doubt that the application of FIPPA represents a significant change for Health Care Professionals in Ontario. The proposed legislation is very likely to be enacted, and many health records will become accessible to the public. It is critically important for Ontario hospitals to make changes to their record keeping and retention policies, procedures, and practices to be able to respond to access to information requests appropriately.