Home » Advocacy » Why Your Health Data — And Privacy — Matter

Michael Green

President & CEO, Canada Health Infoway

To adapt to our increasingly just-in-time lives, the Canadian health care system is on an upward trajectory towards digitization. This necessary modernization of health care means better patient outcomes, as well as improved insight into future health care decisions.  

Despite the personal and system-wide benefits of a more digital health care system, what cannot be ignored is that your health information has value not only to you, but also to people wishing to take advantage of it or use the information inappropriately. 

How your data can be at risk

Thieves collect personal data such as home address or contact information, but also details of physical or mental conditions and prescribed medications. Individuals, especially those in high-profile positions, can be threatened with public exposure of their data, and future health benefit claims or even border crossings could be affected. If the fine print in the privacy agreement isn’t read and understood, it’s hard to know where your information goes and how it’s used.

Compromised personal health data has a much greater and lasting impact. When a credit card is stolen, card numbers are changed, and charges in question are typically reimbursed. In contrast, your health record stays with you for life, leaving you more vulnerable to future problems.

Every time you give a little bit away you’re putting yourself at risk.

Despite the potential for problems, Canadians have not shied away from online banking or commerce, and neither should they fear a digital health system: the benefits to patients, professionals and the overall system are far too great. But we also can’t bury our head in the sand when it comes to privacy or the selling of personal health care data.  Instead we must look at ways to protect Canadians while increasing the digital health options available to them.  One such tool is Infoway’s PrescribeIT, a paperless e-prescription service that enables prescribers to securely transmit a prescription to a patient’s pharmacy of choice. As a not-for-profit service funded by the federal government, it ensures all personal health information is secure, confidential, and used only for its intended purpose. 

The protection of personal data, and especially health data, must be a priority for everyone. Data drives decisions and it allows us to react to new trends in care and system needs, but we can’t let data drive profit at the expense of the patient. Physicians, pharmacists, and all health care professionals must continue to take an active role in protecting their patients’ data; at the same time, patients must ask questions about how their information is kept safe, secure, and guarded against commercial misuse. 

Michael Green is President & CEO of Canada Health Infoway

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