Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 26, 2016 - 8:00 am

Missing patient records create privacy breaches in Nunavut

Breaches, and other issues, outlined in privacy commissioner's annual report

THOMAS ROHNER
Elain Keenan Bengts, Nunavut's information and privacy commissioner, says four patient files from one unnamed community health centre went missing for a while. All were eventually found.
Elain Keenan Bengts, Nunavut's information and privacy commissioner, says four patient files from one unnamed community health centre went missing for a while. All were eventually found.

Nunavut is the first Canadian jurisdiction to require public bodies, such as government departments, to report privacy breaches to the privacy and information commissioner.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that in 2015-16, Nunavut’s health department filed a disclosure in which it admitted losing four separate patient files from the same community health centre.

Health officials eventually found the files, including one file for a prenatal patient, more than six months later. The files were mostly misplaced in a clerk’s desk and in a box under the same desk.

But the incident prompted Privacy and Information Commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts in her 2015-16 annual report, tabled in the legislature Oct. 18, to make five recommendations on how the department can improve records management.

According to her annual report, Keenan Bengts opened a total of 34 files in 2015-16.

That’s a 40 per cent increase from the previous year.

About a third of those files were opened to review requests made under the Access to Information and Privacy Act, Keenan Bengts said in her report.

Seven files led to recommendations from the commissioner, including the health department’s breach—one of five breaches reported in 2015-16.

In investigating the breach, the commissioner’s office found, “staff had not been following its own procedures with respect to recording when a file was taken from the file room.”

“Further, there was very little training with respect to records management and a large turn-over of staff, which contributed to poor filing practices.”

While Keenan Bengts said health centre staff had taken steps to address the breach, she made five recommendations, that:

• the Government of Nunavut undertake a compliance audit to ensure all health centres follow proper file management practices;

• the GN provide all health centre staff with records management training at least once a year;

• the policies around medical file management be reviewed and strengthened;

• each health centre have someone responsible and accountable for tracking all patient files; and,

* the GN move “as soon as possible” to electronic health records.

Some of these same recommendations appear in Keenan Bengts’ full privacy audit of the Qikiqtani General Hospital, which will be tabled during the current legislative assembly sitting, later this month.

In reviewing the last fiscal year, Keenan Bengts provided a number of other updates, including on projects to:

• modernize the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act for the digital world, the first such update in 19 years, to be completed in the 2016/17 fiscal year; and,

• make available on the commissioner’s website past recommendations and responses from public bodies, completed in 2015/16.

Looking ahead, Keenan Bengts repeated a number of recommendations her office has made for the last several years, including that:

• municipalities be listed as a public body subject to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIPP) Act;

• legislation specific to sensitive health information be developed as soon as possible;

• educational authorities be listed as public bodies subject to the ATIPP Act; and,

• public bodies make proactive disclosures to save time and money for handling more nuanced requests under the ATIPP Act.

Keenan Bengts said that while Nunavut should be applauded for requiring self-reporting of privacy breaches, the low number of reported breaches likely means staff aren’t properly trained to identify those breaches.

All staff need basic training in that respect, she said.

And looking even further ahead, towards her retirement in 2020, Keenan Bengts said Nunavut needs to establish its own office and staff by that time.

Keenan Bengts now serves as the privacy commissioner for both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but works out of Yellowknife.

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