Enabling Privacy by Design in Canadian Healthcare

Understanding the why and how of Privacy by Design:

With the rapid increase in frequency of data breaches and privacy incidents, the concept of Privacy by Design (PbD) is more relevant than ever. 

Safeguarding patient information is paramount for healthcare organizations in Canada. Data security is important for compliance with regulations like the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and provincial health privacy laws. Data protection is most important for maintaining patient and professional trust and delivering quality care. 

Let’s explore the principles of Privacy by Design and how they can be effectively applied within healthcare settings.

Privacy by design set up with security

What is Privacy by Design?

Privacy by Design is a framework developed by Dr. Ann Cavoukian in the 1990s, advocating for privacy to be an integral part of the design and operation of IT systems, networked infrastructure, and business practices. Rather than being an afterthought or a reactive measure, privacy should be embedded into the system from the ground up.

The Seven Foundational Principles of Privacy by Design

  1. Proactive not Reactive; Preventative not Remedial
    • Anticipate and prevent privacy issues before they occur. For healthcare organizations, this means incorporating privacy measures in the initial design stages of systems and processes. In healthcare, this is typically achieved by conducting a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA).
  2. Privacy as the Default Setting
    • Personal data should be automatically protected in any IT system or business practice, requiring no action from the individual. In healthcare, default settings should ensure that patient information is not shared without explicit consent.
  3. Privacy Embedded into Design
    • Embed privacy into the design and architecture of IT systems and business practices. For example, electronic health record (EHR) systems should be designed with built-in privacy features like encryption and access controls with automatic timed logouts.
  4. Full Functionality – Positive-Sum, not Zero-Sum
    • Achieve all objectives without unnecessary trade-offs. Healthcare organizations should aim to meet their data needs while fully protecting patient privacy, ensuring both security and operational efficiency. Convenience isn’t a reason to ignore privacy protocols, and security doesn’t need to stand in the way of productivity.
  5. End-to-End Security – Full Lifecycle Protection
    • Ensure that data is securely managed throughout its lifecycle, from collection to disposal. Implement strong encryption, secure access protocols, and regular audits to safeguard patient data at all stages.
  6. Visibility and Transparency – Keep it Open
    • Maintain transparency about data practices, making it clear to patients how their information is being handled. This can be achieved through clear privacy policies and patient consent forms. Further, patients should be able to easily access contact information for your privacy officer.
  7. Respect for User Privacy – Keep it User-Centric
    • Prioritize the needs and privacy of individuals. Healthcare organizations should provide patients with easy access to their data and the ability to manage their privacy preferences.

Applying Privacy by Design in Healthcare:

  1. Secure Electronic Health Records (EHR)
    • Design Stage: Incorporate strong authentication mechanisms, role-based access control, and encryption during the design phase.
    • Implementation: Regularly audit and update systems, software, and hardware to address vulnerabilities and ensure compliance with the latest standards.
  1. Patient Consent Management
    • Design Stage: Develop systems that require explicit patient consent for data sharing when necessary.
    • Implementation: Provide clear and easily accessible consent forms and regularly review consent preferences with patients. Consent must be clear and time-based.
  1. Data Minimization
    • Design Stage: Implement policies that limit data collection to what is necessary for each individual involved in patient care.
    • Implementation: Regularly audit data practices and access to ensure compliance and remove unnecessary data.
  1. Staff Training and Awareness
    • Design Stage: Develop comprehensive privacy training programs for staff.
    • Implementation: Conduct regular training sessions and updates to keep staff informed about best practices and new regulations.

Ongoing privacy programs require action

Privacy by Design is not just a set of principles but a mindset that should permeate all aspects of healthcare organizations. By embedding privacy into the core of their operations, healthcare providers in Canada can protect patient information, comply with legal requirements, and build a foundation of trust and security. Embracing these principles ensures that privacy becomes a proactive, integral part of healthcare delivery, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes and enhanced trust in the healthcare system.

For help establishing Privacy by Design in your healthcare organization, get in touch with the Brightsquid Privacy Support Team here.

Or, start with a self-assessment of your privacy preparedness with this Privacy Compliance Checklist for Healthcare Clinics.