How Privacy Enables Interoperability

By Janet Guevara

It seems archaic to remember clinic filing rooms filled with shelf upon shelf of paper patient charts. While health data privacy seems straightforward in an analogue world, it was onerous to ensure that patient information was available across the circle of care, leading to delays, frustration and the risk of worse health outcomes.

How Privacy Enables Interoperability

Our health system has long outgrown paper charts. As patients move between different providers and care settings, they expect their health data to move with them. And so, to realize effective, person-centred care, it’s essential that the right information is available in the right place, at the right time.  

In other words, a modern health system must be interoperable, enabling information to flow seamlessly and securely. Interoperability benefits patients and health care providers by ensuring the patients have access to their own data, and that providers have the information they need to inform care. It also benefits the health system by supporting measurement, reporting and research.

But many Canadians — quite rightly — have questions about the privacy implications of an interoperable health system. In previous health care models, a single custodian was responsible for end-to-end protection of a patient’s personal health information (PHI). In modern care settings, many custodians may simultaneously have responsibility to protect PHI — for example, a primary care physician may wish to consult with a team of specialists; or a care coordinator may facilitate a care team that involves a mix of clinicians and allied health professionals.

So how does this work? If providers need to exchange PHI to support the delivery of care, how can they be sure they’re doing so in a way that upholds their privacy obligations? What are patients’ rights and recourses when it comes to privacy in an increasingly interconnected health system?

With this evolving health care landscape in mind, we recently released Privacy as an Enabler: Sharing Personal Health Information for Interoperability Primer. In this primer, we delve into the role privacy plays in the creation of interoperable health systems. The primer provides an introduction to interoperability, an overview of Canadian privacy laws and practical approaches to privacy in the context of interoperability.

Ultimately, privacy laws do not mean that patient data cannot be shared. On the contrary, they help enable the sharing of patient data by ensuring that patients and health professionals understand their roles, rights and responsibilities in protecting PHI. All parties can thus participate confidently in health information exchanges, assured that they are meeting their privacy obligations.

You can download Privacy as an Enabler: Sharing Personal Health Information for Interoperability Primer today. Interoperability is the foundation of a connected, collaborative health system; now, explore how privacy is a cornerstone of interoperability.

Have a comment about this post? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author
Janet Guevara

Janet Guevara

Janet Guevara is the Director of Privacy at Canada Health Infoway. In her role, she works within the Governance, Risk and Compliance team to address corporate needs and support business programs to enable compliance and efficient adoption of Infoway solutions.  With over 15 years experience as a solutions-oriented strategic privacy leader, Janet has led the design, implementation and management of hospital privacy programs and has extensive experience in privacy investigations, privacy audits, developing privacy policies and procedures, and training and education.