EDMONTON–Alberta’s new Health Information Act–designed to protect the privacy of patients’ health information–became law in December. The act was passed despite concerns from pharmacists, physicians and the province’s privacy commissioner. It also overrules demands by the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association (CPhA) for nationally harmonized health privacy legislation.

The main concern of the doctors and privacy groups is that the legislation provides opportunity for the Ministry of Health to access information on individuals, says Greg Eberhart, registrar of the Alberta Pharmaceutical Association (APhA).

But pharmacists are worried about the practicality of the legislation, especially concerning the collection and use of information by pharmacists. As it’s written, the new act requires pharmacists and other health professionals to obtain patient consent before any of their identifiable information can be shared with other health professionals.

Similar health information privacy legislation is close to being passed in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan pharmacists are less concerned with their new health information act than they were before amendments were made, but Ray Joubert, Saskatchewan Pharmaceutical Association registrar, says there is still an extra burden on pharmacists to collect consent from clients, rather than having some responsibility relegated to the patient.

Some pharmacies may need additional staff to allow the pharmacist to look after these new legislated health information demands. The association has not yet considered whether a technician could be the person who explains the act and obtains consent, says Joubert.

Meanwhile, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia already have some privacy protection built into their Pharmacare programs,while Ontario has a privacy act under consideration. Other than New Brunswick, the Atlantic provinces have little in the way of privacy protection, says Noƫlle-Dominique Willems, director of public and government affairs at the CPhA.

The national association wants health information legislation to be harmonized across the country, to eliminate confusion when data is transferred across provincial borders.

Also on the national front, the federal government has decided to postpone sections of a national bill on electronic commerce that deals with privacy of health care information. Bill C-6, intended to protect the privacy of information collected through electronic commerce, had also included sections on health information.

The CPhA had been lobbying to stop the bill, which would have affected nearly 60% of all prescriptions.