I’m Kate Dewhirst.

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

Kate Dewhirst Health Law - bringing the law to life. Meet Kate (in 13 seconds)

Are patients entitled to know the names of their health care providers?

Posted by

In the last month I have been asked three times a variation on the theme of this question: “Do we have to tell a patient the full names of our staff if the patient asks?”

The answer is generally, yes.

Today, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) published an order on this exact topic.

Decision 90

The Red Cross provided home care services to an individual. He was verbally abusive to staff. He used derogatory language about the staff who worked with him and claimed women generally lacked intelligence and skills. He was by all accounts a “challenging” person.

He asked the Red Cross for a copy of his full health record.

The Red Cross provided him with a copy of his file, but redacted the names of their employees.

The man complained to the IPC.

The Red Cross argued that it was unsafe to provide the client with the full names of the staff members who had provided care to him in his home. They were worried he would use the information to find out where the staff lived. The Red Cross was concerned for staff safety and being able to meet its ethical and legal obligations to protect them.

The Red Cross claimed an exemption to the client’s normal right of access to his health records under section 52(1)(e)(i) of the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004. The Red Cross said he could have the vast majority of his records, but not the names of their staff members.

The IPC disagreed with the Red Cross and ordered them to release the unredacted record with the full employee names to the complainant.

In this decision, the IPC stated that there was no evidence of the potential for harm to the employees beyond that which was merely possible or speculative. There had been no actual physical threats to the staff. There was no evidence to support the claim of a reasonable risk of harm.

The IPC reviewed similar cases in the freedom of information sector and included a statement from FIPPA Order P0-1940 which read:

There are occasions where staff working in “public” offices […] will be required to deal with “difficult” clients. In these cases, individuals are often angry and frustrated, are perhaps inclined to using injudicious language, to raise their voices and even to use apparently aggressive body language and gestures. In my view, simply exhibiting inappropriate behaviour in his or her dealings with staff in these offices is not sufficient to engage a [defence of risk of harm under FIPPA]. Rather, as was the case in this appeal, there must be clear and direct evidence that the behaviour in question is tied to the records at issue in a particular case such that a reasonable expectation of harm is established.

Bottom Line: Many health sector organizational Codes of Conduct and patient rights statements include a positive commitment such as: “You are entitled to know who has provided you with care”.  It is important that we tell our patients who we are. It’s an act of courtesy and respect.

Patients also have rights of access to their health records where names of their providers will be included as a matter of default.

This decision supports the notion that there could be rare situations where it is appropriate to deny a patient or client the full name of care providers. Those situations must be based on evidence of risks of harm beyond mere possibility or speculation. If your team has received threats of physical violence, those threats should be recorded and would justify not sharing the names of staff.

Want to read about other decisions of the IPC? Click here to get my free up-to-date Summary of all the IPC’s PHIPA Decisions.

Join me for my next Health Privacy Officer training and become even more confident in your role.


If you enjoyed this article please share it:


Previous and next posts from Kate:

Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Team Privacy Training Events
February 12, 19, 26, 27, Mar 2, 9, 11, 24, 27

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...

Speaking event March 25, 2020

Osgoode Professional Development – Health Law Certificate

Kate joins the faculty for this training event. More details...

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

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our March webinar is on questions to ask your insurer and the April program is on changes to pregnant employees' positions.
Full details of the 2020 webinar series and registration here.

Health Privacy Officer training
April 28, 2020

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organisations.

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...

Osgoode Health Privacy training
January 20 & 27 and February 3,10 & 18, 2020

Kate is the program chair for the Osgoode Certificate in Privacy in Healthcare.

This program explores the range of privacy interests that must be protected in the day-to-day treatment of patients, the development of information systems and the creation of institutional policies. More details...

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
March 4 (cancelled) but back April 1

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.

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

Kate says:

My mission is bringing the law to life. I make legal theory understandable, accessible and fun! I’m available and love to work for all organizations in the healthcare sector across Ontario and beyond.

Subscribe to my mailing list and keep up to date with news:

Latest Tweets

RT @riffcord: It's Family Day here in snowy Ontario. Wherever you are, use today to embrace the kites and anchors in your life. What are…

about 12 hours ago

Health Privacy Update: New class action certified in Ontario after privacy breach at a hospital… https://t.co/7KeAgBsoCi

about 21 hours ago

It’s not enough for health care organizations to respect patient privacy rights. I believe we have an obligation to… https://t.co/F19EYz0Uno

08:01 AM Feb 16th

contact details

901 King Street West Suite 400 East Tower
Toronto Ontario M5V 3H5

(416) 855 9557

.