Govt tepid on health information review

Health Minister Tony Ryall sees no need for "great urgency" for a review of how health information is handled.

In its recent review of the Privacy Act, the Law Commission recommended a separate Government review, with a view to enacting separate comprehensive legislation covering health.

In a brief written response to questions on this, Mr Ryall said most of the issues could be dealt with under the Privacy Act and the Health Information Privacy Code.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said she supported the recommendation for further work in the area, but did not hold a firm view about what the right solution might be.

"Whether that improvement would come from new legislation, as the Law Commission suggests, is something that will doubtless come out over the course of the proposed review." She agreed with the commission that the health area raised specific and complex privacy issues.

"I can also see how the complexity of the various laws around health information privacy can make it hard for clinicians to get an overall picture of what they can and can't disclose. They have to consider clinical confidentiality and the best interests of the patient."

She could also see much room for improvement in areas such as information governance and determining how collections of information should be held, used and disclosed.

In the meantime, the commission is working closely with the Ministry of Health and the health sector more generally, to improve both information governance and build health provider and consumer awareness.

The Law Commission described the legal framework governing health information and privacy as "not very coherent".

The commission said what it had in mind went beyond privacy and would cover how health information as a whole was handled.

The review would take into account work already done by the Ministry of Health on such issues as human tissue samples.

It would also need to include the significant amount of work being done on the use and governance of health information being undertaken by the National Health Information Technology Board.

The possibility of having a single electronic health record for each individual was gaining popularity internationally, but it had potential privacy implications as the information could be more vulnerable in the absence of strict controls.

Developments in genetic testing also raised difficult privacy issues.

The commission said there was substantial support in submissions for a comprehensive separate review.

Business New Zealand sought greater clarity about the relationship between the Privacy Act and the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

The New Zealand Law Society asked that consideration be given to compulsory privacy impact assessments for medical databases.

However, the Women's Health Action Trust said it would prefer to see increased resources put into enhancing the Health Information Privacy Code as technology advances.

It also stressed the importance of consumers' right to consent, particularly in the context of medical research.

Health legislation should clearly say. -

• Who may gather personal health information.
• Who may use it, for what purposes and under what conditions.
• How the information may be communicated within the health system and how it should be protected.
• Who may hold the information and how it may be held.
• How information may be used by health researchers.
Source: Law Commission


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