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Doctors Nova Scotia concerned about proposed changes to health information law

'The way that the legislation is written is quite broad and it's not entirely clear the information they might be accessing,' says Dr. Colin Audain, president of Doctors Nova Scotia. (Doctors Nova Scotia - image credit)
'The way that the legislation is written is quite broad and it's not entirely clear the information they might be accessing,' says Dr. Colin Audain, president of Doctors Nova Scotia. (Doctors Nova Scotia - image credit)

The organization that represents more than 3,500 physicians, medical students and residents in Nova Scotia is concerned with provisions in legislation introduced by the minister of finance on March 5 as part of the budget process.

Doctors Nova Scotia said clauses in the Financial Measures Act to amend the Personal Health Information Act would grant the minister of health and her department expanded access to the health records of Nova Scotians.

"The way that the legislation is written is quite broad and it's not entirely clear the information they might be accessing," Dr. Colin Audain, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Thursday.

The second last clause in the 35-page bill would amend the law governing health records by including an additional obligation for doctors and other care providers "to disclose personal health information to the minister or a person acting on behalf of the minister for the purposes of planning and management of the health system, resource allocation and creating or maintaining electronic health record programs and services."

Audain said Health Department officials have told his organization that the purpose is to allow patients to access their own records through the YourHealthNS app the province launched last November.

The department also said it wants to collect aggregate information in order to better plan services or reallocate resources.

Michelle Thompson is Nova Scotia's health minister.
Michelle Thompson is Nova Scotia's health minister.

Michelle Thompson is Nova Scotia's health minister. (Robert Short/CBC)

"As far as we know, the information that they're looking for right now is fairly narrow, and it includes things like the date of a visit, the provider's name, the reason for the visit and the results of diagnostic imaging, blood and other lab tests," said Audain.

"But I think what we're concerned about is the broad nature of the legislation, and the fact that if there were other information, beyond what's currently being looked at in the app, that it could compromise the therapeutic relationship between doctors and their patients."

Doctors Nova Scotia plans to call on the government to modify the proposed law to restrict the information that can be passed on to the minister and the department when the bill moves from the floor of the House to the Law Amendments Committee.

That could happen as early as Monday.

But Health Minister Michelle Thompson doesn't believe the clause needs to be changed, nor does she think people should be concerned about the kind of information she and future health ministers will be able to access.

"The information that people share with their physician is not the information that's going to be collected by government," Thompson told CBC News. "There's no need for us to know, at an individual level, what is discussed or anything like that with physicians. That's not the point.

"We're not interested in individual information, we're interested in that big number that tells us how many people are utilizing and moving through the system at any given time."

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