​In today's Toronto Star, it is reported that three UHN employees have been charged with violating a UHN patients' right to privacy.   In light of this, it is important to give you my views on our patients'  right to privacy, our responsibility to our patients, and our responsibility to our staff.

Our first duty is to our patients and their right to privacy.  They trust us to provide safe, effective, and compassionately provided care for them.   In so doing, they provide us with personal information about their health and many other personal details related to their medical history.  It is implicit and explicitly understood  that only those caring for a patient are entitled to any information contained in that patient's electronic or paper health record.  It is our professional and personal responsibility to protect our patients' right to privacy.   We cannot step away from that responsibility or side-step personal accountability for every UHN employee to respect this patient right.   I am distressed by the breaches of privacy that have been reported today.   This is now a matter before the court and consequently I have no comment on the specifics of these privacy breaches beyond saying that we have fully cooperated with the investigation and I am disappointed that this has happened in our health system. 

UHN has had a long standing strong commitment to support our employees in individual and shared understanding of the patients right to privacy.  When we  join UHN, we all sign a written commitment to privacy which essentially says that what you see or hear in the hospital with regard to patient care must remain in the hospital.  We have privacy training modules available to all employees and we have a new mandatory privacy course which must be completed every year by every employee.  We also conduct random audits on patient files to verify that those accessing the health record are on the patient's care team.  In addition, our electronic systems alert you to the fact that access to the record is recorded.   You also notice posters throughout the hospital which talk about the importance of privacy and what each individual can do to ensure that the patients'  right to privacy is protected.   

At the end of the day, as much as we can do to support each of you in your responsibility to ensure our patients' rights to privacy, it is a personal decision to look at a patients medical record, speak about a case in a public space, or talk to people outside a patient's circle of care.  If you make that decision without the consent of the patient, the consequences of that decision can put your employment in jeopardy, bring professional embarrassment, or take you in to court. 

In reading today's story, I know that this will be very difficult for everyone involved.  Every person can make a mistake and it is up to all of us to ensure that we speak openly about the patient right to privacy, acknowledge mistakes when they happen, and most importantly, that we learn from those mistakes.  This is what it means to be a learning health organization.   At UHN, we share a commitment to patient safety and privacy and I hope that this unfortunate event will help everyone understand that every one of us must take the patients' right to privacy as a personal and professional obligation at all times.

 

Peter 

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