Laws that Apply to the Public Health System PDF Print E-mail

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) applies to “public bodies”, which is a technical term that refers to all government entities. This includes:

  • health authorities
  • all the hospitals, long-term care facilities and clinics that are run by health authorities;
  • provincial mental health facilities;
  • boards of health; and
  • regional hospital districts.

The FIPPA also applies to all service providers to public bodies, including not-for-profit organizations that are government service providers.

The FIPPA provides some privacy protections for personal information, including putting some limits on when personal health information held by a public body can be further used and disclosed after the original purposes for the use or disclosure, unless the further use or disclosure is specifically authorized by law.   In the late spring of 2010, these limits were broadened when the government made some changes to some BC health laws. These changes are designed to allow public bodies to collect, use and disclose personal health information more easily, for a wide range of public health, health system planning and research purposes which previously were more restricted by the FIPPA.  

The Public Health Act allows a person to collect, use and disclose personal information for a number of purposes associated with public health matters, including providing health care to the individual, for public health and health system management purposes, and for health research purposes. Personal information collected under these parts of the Public Health Act can be used or disclosed for a "stewardship purpose" under the Ministry of Health Act.   all all

The Ministry of Health Act gives the Minister of Health the power to collect personal information from a public body, use personal information and disclose information to a public body if the Minister is satisfied that the personal information is needed to fulfill a stewardship purpose.

"Stewardship Purpose"

The words “stewardship purpose” includes planning, developing, monitoring, evaluating and maintaining programs, activities and health care bodies. It also includes health research, and anything else that is necessary to exercise the powers or duties of the Minister under a law or a regulation. These purposes are all “secondary purposes”.

A person cannot limit what is done with their personal health information for a stewardship purpose and does not receive notice when it is collected, used or disclosed.

These changes to the Public Health Act and the Ministry of Health Act now mean that once personal health information is held by a public body, it can be further used and disclosed for any purpose that fits within the definition of a "stewardship purpose" without any notice to the individual.  

 The E-Health Act permits the BC government to designate large databases of health information held in the public system (generally by a health authority) as a Health Information Bank (a “HIB”) and require it to be filled with information from doctors, other health care providers, labs and others. The intent of the E-Health Act is to enable the creation of a province-wide electronic system for storing and accessing patient records.