OIPC Clarifies When Health Service Providers Can Disclose Patients’ Health Information

July 19, 2004

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) wants to make sure that health service providers in Alberta are aware of circumstances under which they can discuss a person’s health information with others.

This press release follows a story from Vancouver last week (Vancouver Sun, page A01, July 10, 2004) involving the tragic death of a young woman and the issue of whether health service providers should have spoken to the woman’s family about her condition prior to her death. The health service providers claimed that privacy laws precluded them from discussing the woman’s condition with her family.

Alberta’s Health Information Act gives health service providers significant discretion in determining when health information should be released to family members.

Health service providers can provide general information on the patient’s condition, diagnosis and prognosis to family members or others with a close personal relationship.  Likewise, family or others with a close personal relationship can be contacted where an individual is injured, ill or deceased.  Both of these provisions stipulate that the disclosure of information can only take place if the patient has not requested that this information not be disclosed.

Of course, should a health service provider feel that the disclosure of health information is necessary to minimize or avert an imminent danger to the health or safety of any person, the information can be released to any person.

If someone feels that a health service provider has not exercised their judgment properly in releasing information, they can ask the Information and Privacy Commissioner to review the matter. The Commissioner will consider whether a reasonable person in the position of the health service provider would have done the same thing at that time.