The Yukon patient whose complaint led the territory’s information and privacy commissioner (IPC) to find a government health branch was requesting too much information to process a doctor’s bills says he’s pleased with the outcome.
However, he also says that his faith in the system has been shaken, and that the violations and shortcomings identified by the IPC should have never been allowed to occur in the first place.
In an interview Jan. 3, former Yukon MLA and Speaker David Laxton said he “flew into a bit of a rage” when his psychiatrist, Armando Heredia, told him about the situation in 2016. According to Laxton, Heredia said that he was not being paid for his psychiatric services because he refused to submit his patients’ clinical records to the Department of Health and Social Services’ (HSS) Insured Health and Hearing Services branch for billing proof.
At the time, Laxton was seeing Heredia for treatment of the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed while serving in the military.
“I was quite concerned about having my medical records released because some of the information I had imparted to (Heredia) was extremely personal in nature and did not want and still do not want anyone other than my doctor to know about it,” Laxton said.
Besides the “deeply emotional, deeply personal” information he was telling Heredia, whom he continues to see for treatment, Laxton said he was worried because some of the information may also have been “classified” due to his military background. While he felt comfortable sharing it with Heredia in a clinical context and under doctor-patient confidentiality, he said he was not comfortable with the possibility of other people seeing it.
Laxton filed a complaint with the IPC that same year.
In a report made public in late 2018, IPC Diane McLeod-McKay found that the the health insurance branch had, in fact, asked for more information than necessary to process at least one of Heredia’s billing claims, thereby violating territorial privacy legislation.
She recommended for HSS to review its practice of collecting clinic records to ensure that it complies with the Yukon’s Health Information Privacy and Management Act, and for HSS to work with her office “in good faith” to address the information security concerns.
Laxton and Heredia were not named in the report.
Laxton said his complaint took two years to resolve, in part, because he refused to accept the Insured Health and Hearing Services branch’s initial responses to his complaint with reasonings on why it needed to collect his clinical record to process Heredia’s bill.
He also said it was “really shocking” to sit in on the hearing McLeod-McKay eventually held on the matter at the beginning of 2018 and to learn, for example, that the branch did not have written policies directing staff on how to handle certain types of sensitive health information.
“This is a terrible way to run the bureaucracy … It’s shameful,” Laxton said, adding that the case made him question how long the breaches had been happening for and whether other Yukon government departments were also not meeting information privacy standards.
As well, Laxton said, the department’s attempt to argue that McLeod-McKay did not have jurisdiction to investigate the complaint, to have the complaint dismissed and to deny that it had any records relevant to the complaint made him question whether the department would comply with McLeod-McKay’s recommendations in a timely fashion.
(When McLeod-McKay released her report in 2018, she also attached a letter from HSS deputy minister Stephen Samis stating that the department accepted the recommendations and is “pleased with the progress that is being made on both.”)
But while he’s unsure on what progress is being made, Laxton said the time and effort he put into making the complaint and following it through to the end was worth it.
“We exposed a travesty within the government that should have been fixed a long time ago,” he said. “… I cannot guarantee that insured health services won’t continue in the same fashion, but maybe they’ll be thinking twice before they start (asking for medical records).”
“And there’s no reason for this to have ever happened and it should not be going on anywhere else in any government, any corporation, anywhere … I cannot guarantee that insured health services won’t continue in the same fashion, but maybe they’ll be thinking twice before they start (asking for medical records).”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org