Your personal health information is collected by different stakeholders as you move throughout the health care system.
Your doctors will keep a file with your personal health information in their office. These files may be further shared with specialists who will also keep a file of your personal health information. In addition, if you visit a clinic or hospital where the health care professionals require your health files, your doctor will share the files.
Some of your health information will be collected by a private lab if you get a test done at the lab. The results of the test will be sent to the doctor who ordered the test and will also be stored in the Provincial Laboratory Information Solution (“PLIS”) system. PLIS allows authorized health care providers to access their patients’ historical and recently published lab test results, including tests ordered by other health care providers. Health care providers with access to the PLIS can:
The PLIS, as part of the Electronic Health Record system, is managed by the BC Ministry of Health and is subject to provincial privacy laws.
Similarly, diagnostic centers will keep a record of your diagnostic tests and results in addition to sending a copy to your doctor.
Information may flow between hospitals if they are in the same health authority; some information may be sent to the Ministry of Health for administrative purposes (such as for Medical Services Plan billing).
Your prescription information is put into the PharmaNet database system, which is available to all pharmacists and some other health care providers within BC. Some of your information may also flow into a registry, such as the Cancer Registry at the BC Cancer Agency, which collects specific information about cancer patients in BC for statistical purposes and for research.
Your personal health information will be generally classified in the health system as either for “primary purposes” or “secondary purposes.”
Primary purposes are when your personal health information enters the health system for the “main reason” of providing your health care. For example, your doctor collects your information when you visit them. The doctor will then disclose some of that information to the Medical Services Plan (“MSP”) for that doctor to be paid, which is a primary purpose. In addition, your doctor may refer you to a specialist and disclose some information to the specialist via primary purposes. Disclosure to both the MSP and specialists are considered primary purposes because the reason your information is being shared is to directly give you care.
Secondary purposes are when your already collected personal health information is used for other purposes. Your personal health information may be used for secondary purposes which may include the following: health system planning, management, quality control, public health monitoring, program evaluation, and research. Usually, but not always, your health information will be “de-identified” and “anonymized” before it is used for these secondary purposes.
The Ministry of Health Act allows the Minister of Health to collect, use, and disclose identifiable personal information for “stewardship purposes”, so certain identifiable secondary uses are no longer against the law.
Please visit the following page for more information on stewardship purposes.
Regardless of the medium your doctor stores your health information, very few people can access said information in your doctor’s office. In general, only health care providers and staff in the doctor’s office or clinic may access these files.
However, others may be able to access your information if it leaves the doctor’s office. For example, your doctor may disclose your health information outside of their office by giving it to someone that may include the following: specialists, labs, referred health care providers for consultation or treatment, MSP for billing purposes, and health information banks. Please visit the following page for more about health information banks and the BC government’s e-health system.
For more information about who can access your personal health information held by your doctor, please see the following pages on health confidentiality and when your health information can be shared.
Your information may be held by hospitals or in the health authority records system either as paper, electronically, or both.
Most computerized systems built by hospitals and health authorities are created to legally allow authorized health care providers and staff access to your information. For example, a health care provider may access your information to give you the best care and treatment, while administrative staff may access information for billing or other administrative purposes. Please visit the following page for information on when your consent may not be necessary.
Some health authorities may have methods, upon your request, to limit who at the hospital or health authority can access your health information. Please visit the following page for more information on how to limit access to your health record.
If you would like to contact the health authorities or hospitals that keep your health information, please visit the following page “Contact Information for Health Authority Privacy Offices”.
The BC government is currently working on a provincial-wide project called “E-Health”. The purpose of E-Health is to improve health care delivery through increasing health information accessibility for health care providers.
The major aim of the project is to build special databases called “health information banks” which make your health information more accessible for health care providers. Doctors in BC are encouraged to move to electronic systems, and some of those systems will be linked to the larger “health information bank” system, which will be connected to labs, pharmacies, hospitals, health authorities, and the Ministry.
The E-Health system is currently being built, with three repositories being completed thus far. The first is called the Provincial Laboratory Information Solution (“PLIS”) system. PLIS provides authorized health care providers with simple and quick access to an individual’s lab test results, and also enables the collection of laboratory information for the purpose of analyzing and managing chronic disease in BC.
The second completed system is Health Gateway, which allows individuals to view their dispensed medication information, immunization history, health visits, consultations and procedures billed to the BC Medical Services Plan (MSP), and requests for special authority drug coverage.
The third completed system is MyCareCompass, which is meant to improve how British Columbians interact with their health. MyCareCompass allows for individuals to access their lab results, view analytics about their health, and share their reports with their family or other close individuals.
People will be allowed by law to put some limits on who sees their health information in a health information bank by putting a “disclosure directive” on their electronic health record. For more information about disclosure directives and how to block people from seeing your personal health information, please see the following page on how to limit access to your health information.
You may interact with social services agencies while you navigate the health care system. Social services agencies are generally non-government organizations that sign contracts with the government to provide specific services to the public. Therefore, social services agencies are legally required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to protect the privacy and security of the personal information they collect and to keep it secure from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure.
The amount of personal health information a social services agency will collect depends on the service the agency is providing. In addition, your personal information may be stored on paper or electronically, or both.
Depending on the services and how the social services agency is funded, the agency may also be required to follow specific government requirements. These may include sharing the information with a Ministry, or making it available to other agencies who provide services to you or your family.
If you have any questions about the protection of your privacy, please contact the social services agency you are dealing with.
These pages were last updated and reviewed in August of 2022.
The information on these pages only contains general information and guidance; none of the information constitutes legal advice. If you have a specific issue that you believe is a legal problem, the best practice is to consult a lawyer.
The information is non-partisan, dynamic and ever changing. It is the result of FIPA’s research and public education programs.
If you note something that needs to be added, corrected, or removed, please contact us by email: fipa AT fipa.bc.ca.