Public policy

The collection of physician personal health information and public safety

Background

Regulatory authorities (Colleges), hospitals, and regional health authorities have a responsibility to the public for the delivery of safe medical care. In fulfilling this responsibility, these institutions may collect physicians' personal health information to assess if the physicians' health status poses a risk to their patients. Doctors should be aware that in their role as healthcare providers they enjoy limited privacy rights regarding their personal health information. The CMPA advances that when collecting personal health information, Colleges, hospitals, and regional health authorities balance the individual privacy rights of physicians with the actual risks to patient care.

Issues

The CMPA recognizes that Colleges have a responsibility to public safety while hospitals and regional health authorities have a corresponding one to patient safety. To carry out their responsibilities, many of these institutions collect a range of physician personal health information and use it to assess whether a physician's health status poses a risk to patients in their care.

The CMPA is concerned that personal health information is being broadly collected on the perceived value that such collection will truly ensure patient safety. This collection also negates the long-standing obligations of physicians to report medical conditions that may negatively affect their patients' safety. This obligation forms part of a physician's ethical duty.

The CMPA has advanced a framework to guide the collection of personal health information. This framework was informed by a scientific review of the true risk of transmission of blood borne pathogens. The CMPA believes that evidence-based criteria must guide the collection, use, and safeguarding of all physician personal health information while enshrining privacy rights.

Recommendations

The CMPA supports a balanced approach to the collection and use of physician personal health information. Regardless of the rationale for collection, physician personal health information must be carefully safeguarded to protect the privacy of those involved.

Physicians need to play their part in achieving this balance. Physicians should disclose their personal health information to regulatory authorities when required by law, or when the physician consents to the disclosure because it is necessary to protect patient safety.1

Evidence-based criteria should guide the collection, use, and safeguarding of all physician personal health information while enshrining privacy rights. The questionnaires used by regulatory authorities, hospitals, and other institutions to collect physicians' personal health information should balance patient safety with the privacy rights of physicians.

The CMPA has published the following papers on physician personal health information:

1 CMPA, Physician personal health information, 2010, p.14.


DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.