What Is Personal Health Information?
Personal health information is information about an identifiable individual. Personal information includes information that relates to an individual’s personal characteristics (e.g., gender, age, income, home address or phone number, ethnic background, family status); health (e.g., health history, health conditions, health services received by them); or, activities and views (e.g., religion, politics, opinions expressed by an individual, an opinion or evaluation of an individual). Personal information is different from business information (e.g., an individual’s business address and telephone number). This is not protected by privacy legislation.
Collection of Personal Health Information: Primary Purposes: About Clients
The primary purpose of collecting personal information is to provide mental health services (eg: assessment, therapy, consultation, psychotherapy). For example, the collection of information about a client’s health history, including their family history, physical condition and function, and social situation is conducted in order to help with the assessment of client needs, to advise clients of their options, and then to provide the health care they choose to have.
A second primary purpose is to obtain a baseline of health and social information so that in providing ongoing health services one can identify changes that occur over time. It would be rare for us to collect such information without the client’s express consent, but this might occur in an emergency (e.g., the client is unconscious) or where we believe the client would consent if asked and it is impractical to obtain consent (e.g., a family member passing a message on from a client and we have no reason to believe that the message is not genuine).
About Members of the General Public
For members of the general public, our primary purposes for collecting personal information are to provide notice of special events (e.g., a seminar or conference) or to make them aware of our psychological services. For example, while we try to use work contact information where possible, we might collect home addresses, fax numbers and email addresses. We try to obtain consent before using any such personal information, but where this is not, for any reason, possible, we will upon request immediately remove any personal information from our distribution list. On our website we only collect, with the exception of cookies, the personal information you provide and only use that information for the purpose you provided (e.g., to respond to your email message, to register for a course, to subscribe to a newsletter). Cookies are only used to help you navigate our website and are not used to monitor you.
Collection of Personal Health Information: Related and Secondary Purposes:
Like most organizations, we also collect, use, and disclose information for purposes related to (or secondary to) our primary purposes. The most common examples of our related and secondary purposes are as follows:
- To invoice clients for goods or services that were not paid for at the time, to process credit card payments, or to collect unpaid accounts.
- To advise clients and others of special events or opportunities (e.g., a seminar, development of a new service, the arrival of a new product) that we have available.
- For reviewing client and other files for the purpose of ensuring that we provide high-quality services, including assessing the performance of staff. In addition, external consultants (e.g., auditors, lawyers, practice consultants, voluntary accreditation programs) may on our behalf do audits and continuing quality improvement reviews of our clinic, including reviewing client files.
- The College of Psychologists of Ontario may inspect our records and interview staff as a part of their regulatory activities in the public interest. In addition, we will report serious misconduct, incompetence, or incapacity of other practitioners, whether they belong to other organizations or our clinic. Also, we believe that we should report information suggesting serious illegal behaviour to the authorities. External regulators have their own strict privacy obligations. Sometimes these reports include personal information about clients or other individuals, to support the concern (e.g., improper services). Also, like all organizations, various government agencies (e.g., Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Information and Privacy Commissioner, Human Rights Commission, etc.) have the authority to review our files and interview staff as a part of their mandates. In these circumstances, we may consult with professionals (e.g., lawyers, accountants) who will investigate the matter and report back to us.
- The cost of some goods/services provided by our clinic is paid for by third parties (e.g., private insurance companies). These third-party payers often have your consent or legislative authority to direct us to collect and disclose to them certain information in order to demonstrate client entitlement to this funding.
- Clients or other individuals we deal with may have questions about our goods or services after they have been received. We also provide ongoing services for many of our clients over a period of months or years for which our previous records are helpful. We retain client information for a minimum of ten years after the last contact to enable us to respond to those questions and provide these services.
- If our clinic or its assets were to be sold, the purchaser would want to conduct a “due diligence” review of our records to ensure that it is a viable business that has been honestly portrayed to the purchaser. This due diligence may involve some review of our accounting and service files. The purchaser would not be able to remove or record personal information. Before being provided access to the files, the purchaser must provide a written promise to keep all personal information confidential. Only reputable purchasers who have already agreed to buy the practice’s business or its assets would be provided access to personal information, and only for the purpose of completing their due diligence search prior to closing the purchase. You can choose not to be part of some of these related or secondary purposes (e.g., by declining to receive notice of special events or opportunities, or by paying for your services in advance). We do not, however, have many choices about some of these related or secondary purposes (e.g., external regulation).
Protecting Personal Health Information
We understand the importance of protecting personal information. For that reason, we have taken the following steps:
- Electronic records are stored on a secure platform that complies with PIPEDA and PHIPA standards (Jane Software) and adheres to privacy standards set out by the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
- When using Jane in the presence of clients, the “Enable Privacy” feature is used to avoid accidental viewing of clients’ personal health information.
- Electronic hardware is secured in a locked area at all times. In addition, passwords are used on computers. Cell phones are digital as these signals are more difficult to intercept.
- Electronic information is transmitted either through a direct line or has identifiers removed or is encrypted.
- All paper documents are secured in a double locked area.
- Paper information is transmitted through sealed, addressed envelopes.
- All clinic and clinician emails are encrypted.
- External consultants and agencies with access to personal information must enter into privacy agreements with us.
Retention and Destruction of Personal Health Information
We need to retain personal information for some time to ensure that we can answer any questions you might have about the services provided and for our own accountability to external regulatory bodies. However, we do not want to keep personal information too long in order to protect your privacy. We keep client files for ten years. Our client and contact directories are much more difficult to systematically destroy, so we remove such information when we can if it does not appear that we will be contacting you again. However, if you ask, we will remove such contact information right away. We destroy paper files containing personal information by shredding them. We destroy electronic information by deleting it and, when the hardware is discarded, we ensure that the hard drive is physically destroyed.
Access to Your Health Information
With only a few exceptions (eg: copyright-protected tests), you have the right to see what personal information we hold about you. Often all you have to do is ask. We can help you identify what records we might have about you. We will also try to help you understand any information you do not understand (e.g., short forms, technical language, etc.). We will need to confirm your identity, if we do not know you, before providing you with this access. We reserve the right to charge a nominal fee for such requests. If there is a problem we may ask you to put your request in writing. If we cannot give you access, we will tell you within 30 days if at all possible, and tell you the reason, as best we can, as to why we cannot give you access. If you believe there is a mistake in the information, you have the right to ask for it to be corrected. This applies to factual information and not to any professional opinions we may have formed. We may ask you to provide documentation that our files are wrong. Where we agree that we made a mistake, we will make the correction and notify anyone to whom we sent this information. If we do not agree that we have made a mistake, we will still agree to include in our file a brief statement from you on the point and we will forward that statement to anyone else who received the earlier information.
If you wish to make a formal complaint about our privacy practices, you may make it in writing to our Information Officer. They will acknowledge receipt of your complaint, ensure that it is investigated promptly, and that you are provided with a formal written decision with reasons. If you have a concern about the professionalism or competence of our services or the mental or physical capacity of any of our professional staff we ask you to discuss those concerns with Vera Roncon, Clinical Psychologist / Clinic Owner, at 416-488-2838. If Vera Roncon cannot satisfy your concerns, you are entitled to complain to one of our regulatory bodies:
College of Psychologists of Ontario
110 Eglinton Ave West, Ste 500
Toronto, ON M4R 1A3
College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario
75 University Avenue, Suite 803,
Toronto, ON M5G 2J5
Tel: 1 844-712-1364
Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers
250 Bloor Street East, Suite 1000
Toronto, Ontario M4W 1E6
This policy is made under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA). For more general inquiries, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario oversees the administration of privacy legislation. The Commissioner also acts as a kind of ombudsman for privacy disputes. The Information and Privacy Commissioner can be reached at:
Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario
2 Bloor Street East, Suite 1400
Toronto, Ontario M4W 1A8
Phone (416) 326-3333
Fax (416) 325-9195
TTY (416) 325-7539