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People have a right to know what health information is held about them by health professionals, Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff says.
Very few consumers knew that they could ask to see what information their health professionals held about them, Ms Shroff said today when releasing a privacy toolkit aimed at both health consumers and health providers as part of Privacy Awareness Week.
"It always surprises people to learn that they have a right of access to health information about themselves.
"Yet this is a vitally important right."
The toolkit also contained case notes (summaries of actual health-related privacy complaints), an updated privacy reference guide, the Health Information Privacy Code and commentary, and a training presentation.
Ms Shroff said it was expected that the tools would help health providers to get their information handling right.
"The relationship between a person and their health professional is based on confidentiality and trust.
"We know health professionals do their best to get things right but it's very important for consumers to know that they have rights in relation to health information about them."
It was becoming increasingly important to know what information was held about consumers, by whom, and where it was.
"Health information is like all other kinds of information about us - it's not stuck in a paper file these days," Ms Shroff said.
"Instead, it's in digital form in networked computer systems, on databases and even online."
Electronic health records presented great opportunities to create better, more efficient health care and it was easier than ever for health information to get to the right people at the right time.
However, there were risks that needed to be managed, including risks to security and privacy, she said.
"Consumers need the chance to participate in the conversation about how their health information can be appropriately managed."
They needed some control and they could only do that if they knew what was going on, Ms Shroff said.
The health information privacy tool kit is available from Privacy Commissioner's website at: http://privacy.org.nz/health-privacy-toolkit/