I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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It is May 25th. What is the GDPR and should you care if you are a health sector organization in Ontario?

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Disclaimer: I’m not a GDPR expert by any stretch of the imagination.  

GDPR stands for the General Data Protection Regulation – it came into force today – May 25, 2018.

It provides new protections for citizens of the European Union.  Here is a great website with videos and text to explain it.

You may be wondering why you have received a lot of emails lately from US and Canadian companies about their privacy policies and to opt into receiving emails from them going forward.

If a company does business in the European Union, they must follow the GDPR rules even if they are not headquartered or physically located in the EU. This has lead big companies (and even small companies) to implement these changes for all their users and customers – even those of us in Canada.

For the vast majority of my clients and other health sector organizations in Ontario – you will not have to do anything to change your policies or practices in response to today’s regulatory change in the EU unless you sell goods or services or do business with or communicate with or monitor folks in the EU.  If you do, you should get advice on steps you should have taken already!

Here’s an article on how the GDPR affects Canadian hospitals and health care organizations.

For the rest of you – many of the requirements of the GDPR are generally good business practice anyway. Frankly, our health privacy legislation in Ontario, our Canadian Anti-Spam legislation and our federal commercial privacy legislation are based on very similar principles (acknowledging there are some practical differences and enforcement consequences).

In an age of big data fears and international privacy violations, it is always good practice to:

  • Be clear about  what personal information you collect and what you do with it and with whom you share it
  • Collect email addresses only with consent
  • Provide ready and easy opt outs for receiving emails
  • Have publicly posted privacy policies
  • Securely dispose of personal information when you no longer need it
  • Be clear when individuals have a right to ask you to delete or dispose of their information and their rights of access to their own personal information
  • Notify individuals affected by a privacy breach in a timely way

For the most part, May 25th is just another day in health care in Ontario.  But for all of you Privacy Officers, keep examples of your favourite GDPR notifications from the businesses with whom you deal.  Use them as templates for public notices of changes to your privacy practices.

Blog Update: The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario released information on July 11th to describe GDPR (and to reassure health information custodians in Ontario that GDPR likely does not apply to you).


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Health Privacy Officer training
April 28, 2020

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations - now totally online.

This course focuses on how to become a more confident privacy officer and gives you the tools to document your privacy program. Full details and registration here...

Primary care webinars: Employment Law Update & Legal Issues for EDs and Board members

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our April program is on COVID-19 and the May program will address governance tips and tricks.
Full details of the 2020 webinar series and registration here.

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the first Wednesday of every month (Next up: May 6 and June 3)

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Team Privacy Training Events
March 31, April 17, May 6, June 17

For Primary Care clinics, Hospitals, Community Agencies and Children’s Aid

Kate trains health professionals from many more health care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

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