Larger fines coming for misuse of Albertans' personal health information

·3 min read

Proposed legal changes could give more professionals easier access to Albertans' personal health records.

However, should proposed health legislation pass, the maximum fines for improperly looking at or sharing that information could double.

Bill 46, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, would make changes to how health-care workers are regulated in the province and how personal health information is managed.

If the bill is passed, 26,000 Alberta health-care aides would become regulated professionals.

It means the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta would decide what skills and training aides need and investigate any complaints against them.

"I think it's quite frankly the evolution of the profession," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said on Thursday.

"As they progressively become more and more important in our health-care system, it's just a natural evolution of them. And we want them to have a greater voice in the health system."

Health-care aides work in hospitals, long-term care centres, home care and clinics and help patients with eating, dressing, grooming and moving around. They can do basic wound care and other tasks.

They could become regulated by fall 2021.

Bill 46 would also put a firewall between organizations that regulate and advocate for health professionals.

Shandro said most of Alberta's 29 health colleges are true regulators.

But six colleges, including those for nurses, dentists and physiotherapists, also function as associations for workers.

The separations would need to happen within 18 months.

Shandro said the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta requested the legal change.

He said it was a "thoughtful" request, as associations represent worker interests and regulators represent the public interest.

The proposed rules would also prevent senior employees or officers of a professional association from serving on the board of a regulatory college.

And, it would allow smaller regulatory colleges to merge, should they wish.

If passed, the legislation would also allow the province to create a searchable website for the public to look up health-care workers in any of the regulated professions.

Some of that information is already posted online by individual colleges.

Shandro said it would be simpler for patients to have access to that information in one place, rather than hunting through dozens of websites.

Initial plans for the database will exclude publishing any disciplinary information about health-care workers, such as whether their licence has been suspended or revoked for misconduct.

However, Shandro said he's open to discussing that idea.

Bill 46 is the second piece of legislation this year to propose changes to health colleges. Bill 30 required the colleges to to include more public members on their governing councils.

Broader access to electronic health records

Researchers, medical examiners and health-care workers outside the province would also have easier access to Albertans' electronic health records, should the legislation pass. Shandro said this is particularly important in border cities like Lloydminster.

Changes would also allow the nearest living relatives to get dead family members' health information for insurance claims.

However, if passed, the legislation would also double the maximum fines for health information breaches.

Misusing information from an electronic health record could net a maximum $200,000 fine, and improper access or sharing of health information could garner a fine of up to $1 million.

Since 2001, there have been 15 convictions for breaching Alberta's Health Information Act.

Continuing with the government's goal of eliminating "red tape," the bill also seeks to centrally regulate limits on which workers can perform delicate tasks.

For instance, provincial regulation will decide which professionals can cut body tissue, perform a COVID-19 nasal swab, reset a bone fracture or administer vaccines or blood products.

The bill also proposes several housekeeping and language changes to health legislation.

In addition to amending the Health Professions Act, Health Information Act and Health Facilities Act, Bill 46 would repeal the Hospital Act and change the name of the ABC Benefits Corporation Act to the Alberta Blue Cross Act.