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How to communicate with your board about privacy issues during COVID-19

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I am getting questions such as: “how do I talk to my board about the risks as we move to virtual care and staff working from home?”

Interim v. Long-term

You will definitely want to explain that we are in the early days of responding to the pandemic. Our solutions now are our interim solutions. As the days, weeks and months go by, we will revisit our interim decisions with the new information and environmental context that present. Explain that you will be keeping your board updated at regular intervals.

Share what the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has written

Your board will be comforted to know that our health privacy regulator in Ontario has acknowledged that a pandemic presents challenges for health care organizations as they start using new technology to communicate with patients and as staff are working from home. The IPC has provided tips on how to transition. His office has also acknowledged that healthcare organizations may not be able to maintain the same security standards they would outside of a pandemic emergency.

Make a copy of the IPC’s statement of March 16,2020 and send it with a cover letter to your board members such as:

I want to share with you a communication from the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario that I am using to guide our work as we transition to virtual care and having our staff work from home.  We have to ensure that privacy continues to be foundational to our work – and we also have to be realistic in what we can do as we provide care from new settings.  I thought this would bring you some comfort that our privacy regulator also knows we are challenged and has given us some reassurance. I will keep a copy of this as part of our due diligence in this time.

Identify the other resources that are guiding your decision-making

Acknowledge to your board that there are a lot of changes happening.  Explain that you are focused on making interim decisions to prioritize continuity of care and that you still have safeguards and security in mind. Share with your board that you are keeping up on the changing landscape by:

  • Following the guidance of your Public Health Units and provincial government
  • Participating in forums and webinars for your sector (be it through the Ontario Hospital Association, Association of Family Health Teams, Ontario Long-Term Care Association and other platforms)
  • Seeking legal advice or information through law firms
  • Following guidance from Ontario Health (Quality) Adopting and Integrating Virtual Visits into Care
  • Following recommendations from sources you trust (such as OntarioMD)
  • Talking to your insurer
  • Talking to your IT support team (or external consultants)

Explain the necessity of staff working from home and the benefits of virtual care


  • Much of what you need to explain to the board are the legal requirements and recommendations of public health officials about physical distancing. There are also many benefits of moving virtual including being able to continue service during the pandemic and connecting with patients where they are in a format they use for other services. Share the Ontario Health (Quality) Promise of Virtual Care video, which was posted pre-physical distancing measures.

Explain what you have done to protect the organization from risk

Make sure you also explain the precautions you have taken to manage the risk of the transition: training, choosing the product and product evaluation, insurance reviews, speaking with your IT consultants.

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