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Trust Builders: Profiles of Health Privacy Officers – Simeon Kanev, Alliance for Healthier Communities

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We are the trust builders.  Privacy Officers assist their organizations to earn the trust of their clients, patients, residents, consumers and their caregivers.  These are their stories.

Simeon Kanev, Alliance for Healthier Communities


Alliance for Healthier Communities is an association of community-governed primary health care organizations. Alliance members serve diverse communities across Ontario, and they are rooted in the communities they serve. They share a commitment to advancing health equity through the delivery of comprehensive primary health care. Many Alliance members are now leading the charge of the new Ontario Health Teams movement.

Kate: Simeon, thank you so much for participating in this.  I have been so impressed by your passion and commitment to privacy.  This is fun!  Can you start by telling us a little about your journey to becoming a Privacy Officer?

Simeon: After completing my Master of Information with a data protection focus program at University of Toronto, I decided to specialize in the interesting field of privacy.  My position at one of the 14 Community Care Access Centres got me into healthcare privacy. After that, I went into the hospital sector for about a year. From there, into primary care where I’ve been happily advising on all things privacy for the past 4 1/2 years.

Kate: And you do that advising with such skill and gusto!  Simeon, we hear alot these days about being in a “post-privacy” world.  What do you think about that, is privacy important?

Simeon: We live in a data-driven world where privacy is becoming more important than ever. We all need privacy as we all have things to hide. Back in time, Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg said that privacy is no longer a social norm. But if you look carefully at pictures of him at the office, you can  see that he has tape over his laptop’s webcam and microphone! What does he have to hide? Why is he preaching what he obviously does not believe in?!?

Kate: Simeon, I KNEW you’d be controversial!!  In this series, I want to help people learn what it is like to be a Privacy Officer.  What is a typical day like for you in your role as Privacy Officer? 

Simeon: Providing privacy consultations to both internal and external clients/stakeholders, creating privacy-oriented materials that would be of interest to front line staff of member organizations, providing front line privacy and security awareness training (the best part of my job), checking what’s new in the privacy and security worlds (as those two are constantly interconnected) and other duties as assigned.

Kate: What has been your biggest accomplishment as a Privacy Officer? 

Simeon: My biggest accomplishment is the outreach privacy and security awareness education program for member (and non-member) organizations which was developed from scratch. We believe we’ve found just the right mix of information, examples, and jokes to make a 3-hr long privacy and security training an interesting and exciting event for everyone. In the words of one of the thousands of trainees, “this was not just an information session, it was an entire experience”.

Kate:  Simeon, I’ve seen the work you do and it is an experience. A positive experience.  That’s hard to achieve in a space that can be considered “bor-ring”.  Tell me, what is something that surprised you the most about being a Privacy Officer? 

Simeon: How the court shot down the Rouge Valley Health System class action lawsuit. (Editor’s Note: see Broutzas case) Names, date of birth, addresses not considered “private” when taken into the context of health care? Really???

Kate:  Class action law suits are changing the course of privacy law – that’s for sure!! Simeon, you are a leader in our field and I know you are in the trenches with your Alliance members which means you hear what worries people about privacy. What are some key challenges for Privacy Officers in healthcare? 

Simeon: Ontario Health Teams, where the groups that are coordinating care in the province are now including non-health information custodians in the mix (especially vendors that are in it for the profit).  I don’t know how the law is going to change and whether those players will be allowed into the “circle of care” to receive health information.

Another issue is the reality that physicians are arguably the biggest offenders when it comes to privacy breaches but they do not have the time for privacy training.  It is difficult as a Privacy Officer to catch the attention of clinicians who need the information but are rightfully busy delivering care.

I witness many situations where personal health information is being used for quality improvement, education and planning purposes way outside what is permitted by PHIPA. Those limits can be difficult to explain and for health care organizations to accept and train on.

There are other challenges too!

Kate: What advice would you give someone who is starting out as a new Privacy Officer? 

Simeon: My advice would be – brace yourself for what will be coming your way but also remember that helpful information is available, you just need to find it. If you can’t or need help with anything, reach out – you are not alone in this journey and no one should reinvent the wheel.

Kate: You are not alone! That’s such good advice.  I can always count on you to tell it like it is. You have invested a lot of time and energy in thinking about privacy. I always learn something new when I’m with you – so thank you for this!

If you are interested in reading more stories about Privacy Officers, also in this Trust Builders series:

Ashley Hoffmeister, FIREFLY: children’s health services (January 2020)

OPEN CALL: If you are a health Privacy Officer and want to be interviewed as part of this series, please reach out to me!

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Kate Dewhirst Health Law

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