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Emergency Order authorizing Public Health Unit (PHU) access to the Electronic Health Record (EHR)

May 21, 2020  
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May 20, 2020

An emergency order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMPCA) has been issued, authorizing Coroners and PHUs, including Medical Officers of Health (MOHs) and the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), to access the provincial Electronic Health Record (EHR) to prevent, respond to and alleviate the COVID-19 outbreak.

This access is to real-time Personal Health Information (PHI) in the EHR, which contains the most up-to-date laboratory and clinical information across the province. This will increase the timeliness and completeness of the information PHUs have available to support COVID-19 pandemic management. It also enables appropriate public health use of the information held in the EHR. This would include confirmation of individuals’ personal and personal health information and identification. 

The order also provides HICs with the authority to disclose and the CMOH, MOHs, Coroners, and Registered Nurses (only those authorized by the Coroner's Act) to collect and use PHI from the EHR for any purpose related to exercising their powers or performing their duties under their respective acts. 

Furthermore, Ontario Health is authorized to make PHI available to the CMOH, MOHs, Coroners, and Registered Nurses by means of the EHR even if Ontario Health does not have custody or control of the PHI.

It is possible that providers, but also clients, might feel anxious about these new disclosures to entities that previously wouldn't have had access to such sensitive information. That, combined with the April announcement that law enforcement and other first respondents can get list of patients who have tested positive for COVID19, might affect, and even more so, erode the relationship of trust. It is important for remind ourselves that these powers are only temporary and will be halted once the state of pandemic is over.

The order, which is supposed to be temporary, has been extended past its original expiration date of May 15 to May 29th (unless further extended beyond that date).

Alliance for Healthier Communities
500-970 Lawrence Ave W
Toronto, ON M6A 3B6
Tel: 416-236-2539
Fax: 416-236-0431

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