When Can and Can't They Tell Others? PDF Print E-mail

In your Doctor’s office

Your health care providers can share your personal information with other health care providers who give you care and treatment. The health care providers who give you care and treatment are in your “circle of care.”  They are allowed to see your personal health information if it is relevant to the care and treatment they give you. Your health care provider is allowed by law to assume you have consented to this type of sharing, within your "circle of care".   

The nurses and medical assistants in your doctor’s office also have access to your file, although they are supposed to use their access only to do things like keep your file up to date and accurate.

Your doctors and other health care providers are not allowed to share your personal information with anyone outside the circle of care except in very limited situations.  

For example, your health care provider is allowed to share your personal health information when you tell them in writing to give copies of your files to someone – a family member, lawyer or other representative of you.  

Other situations include when there is a legal requirement, such as for billing purposes, or to report a disease or risk, or if there is a court order.   These include:

  • For billing and administrative purposes, information must be sent to the Medical Services Plan (MSP)
  • If you are unable to drive
  • If there is suspected child abuse
  • If you are wounded by a gun or knife
  • If you are a danger to others

In a health clinic or hospital

When your personal information is in a clinic or hospital operated by a health authority, the rules are a little bit different. In that situation, your health information will be used to give you care and treatment, and for billing purposes.  It might also be used for other purposes, such as

  • health system planning, maintenance or improvement
  • public health surveillance
  • quality assurance, monitoring and evaluation purposes (to make sure that the hospital is delivering quality care or to figure out what happened if something went wrong)

Health authorities do not need to get consent before they use personal health information for these types of purposes.   When they use personal health information for these types of purposes they might take the individual's name off and replace it with a number or code, so the information is made anonymous.  They do not have to do that, and sometimes (such as if they need to evaluate a specific problem) they cannot take the name off.  

These types of purposes are sometimes referred to as "stewardship purposes" and there are laws in BC which specifically allow health authorities, Ministries and other agencies of government to collect, use and disclose personal health information for "stewardship purposes" without having to get consent from the individual. A person cannot limit what is done with their personal health information for a stewardship purpose and does not receive notice when it is collected, used or disclosed.  For more information about stewardship purposes and the law that applies to the public sector click here.

Research

Generally, when your doctor or other health care provider collects your personal health information to give you care and treatment, they can't also use or disclose that information for research without asking you first and telling you about the research.  

If you are asked whether you want to participate in a research project, you have the right to refuse.   

A lot of personal health information is collected by health authorities, Ministries and government agencies, and this information can be and is used for health research, public health research, system planning, management and evaluation purposes, so long as certain rules are followed. For more information about the laws that enable research to be done in BC using personal health information held in the public sector, click here.

Sometimes personal health information will be taken from the government agency, all the identifying information will be taken off it and replaced with a code, and it will be given to another government agency or department to use for health research.  This is often done by Population Data BC, which arranges for research to be done using information about people that the government has collected, in a way that protects privacy. See http://www.popdata.bc.ca/

Sometimes personal health information is collected into a specific agency or health registry for the specific purpose of conducting health surveillance and large-scale public health research - a good example of this is the Cancer Registry

What if I don't want them to share my personal health information?  

If you DO NOT WANT your information to be shared with your other health care providers, you need to tell your health care provider. They may want you to give them the instructions in writing. Click here for a sample form.