Frequently Asked Questions about PHIA

What is personal health information?

Personal health information means information that can be linked to a specific person, and that relates to:

  1. that person's health or health care history, including genetic information;
  2. the provision of health care to that person; and,
  3. payment for health care provided to that person.

This definition even includes general information about a person (such as name, address, gender and date of birth) if that information is collected during a health care service or if it is used to administer payment for a health care service.

PHIA does not apply to statistical or anonymous information that cannot be linked to a specific person.  

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What is a trustee?

PHIA uses the term “trustee” to refer to the persons and organizations who are bound by the act. They are called trustees because they hold your information "in trust" for you. Some examples of trustees are health professionals, hospitals, personal care homes, community health centres, medical clinics, ambulance services, laboratories, regional health authorities, and public bodies such as government departments, crown corporations and school divisions.

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What are my rights under PHIA?

PHIA gives you two primary rights:  the right to access your own personal health information and the right to expect that the privacy of that information will be protected.  The right to access includes the right to see your personal health information, get a copy of it, and request a correction to it.  The right to privacy includes the right to know why your information is being collected, and the right to have that information kept confidential and secure changes by trustees who collect and maintain it.

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Why would I want to access my personal health information?

You might want:

  1. to learn more about your health history and treatments;
  2. to provide the information to another health professional;
  3. to get information for life and health insurance purposes;
  4. to prepare for a legal claim; or,
  5. to file a complaint against a trustee

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Do I have a right to all my personal health information?

The right to access your personal health information does have some limitations.  For example, if a trustee believes that knowledge of certain information could endanger you or someone else, the trustee can deny you access to it.  For a compete list of exceptions, see Section 11(1) of PHIA.

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Does the right of access include the right to take my original medical record with me?

No. The right of access includes the right to see or get a copy of your personal health information. It does not include the right to remove an original record from a trustee’s custody. This helps to ensure that your health care providers have information they need to provide you with services in the future and to satisfy retention requirements imposed by regulatory bodies.

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How do I access my personal health information?

PHIA requires you to make the request directly to the trustee that maintains your records. The trustee may ask that you make your request in writing.

If the information you want to access is in a doctor’s office, you should make your request directly to the doctor.  If the information is maintained in a larger facility like a hospital or a personal care home, you should direct your request to the facility’s Privacy Officer.

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Can I get a copy of my personal health information?

Yes.  Not only are you entitled to see your personal health information, you have the right to receive a copy of it.

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Are there any fees involved?

Perhaps.  The trustee may charge a reasonable fee for allowing you to examine, or for providing you with a copy of, your personal health information.  The purpose of these fees is to help cover administration and staff costs involved in retrieving and/or reviewing the record, as well as the costs associated with creating copies.

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If the reason I want a copy of my record is to provide it to another health professional, can I avoid fees by requesting that the record be transferred?

Not necessarily. PHIA doesn’t speak to fees associated with the transfer of medical records. However, it should be noted that regulatory bodies normally allow health professionals to charge reasonable fees for transferring records. For an example, see the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba Fee By-Law.

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How long will it take to get a copy of the information I requested?

PHIA requires trustees to respond to requests for access as quickly as possible, but in any case, within 30 days of receiving your request.  The response must either:

  1. make the personal health information available for examination or include a copy;
  2. inform you that the information does not exist or cannot be found; or
  3. inform you that your request cannot be granted and why.

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What if my personal health information, as recorded, is incorrect?

To ensure that your personal health information is accurate and complete, PHIA gives you the right to request corrections to your recorded personal health information.  Requests for corrections must be in writing.  A trustee must respond to your request within 30 days of receiving it.

When a correction is made, the mistaken information is stroked out, not erased, and the correct information is added.

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What if the trustee does not agree that there is a mistake in my record?

If a trustee disagrees that there is a need for a correction, PHIA requires them to inform you of this fact in writing, state the reason for refusing to make the change, and advise you of your right to add a statement of disagreement to your file.

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What is a statement of disagreement?

If a trustee refuses to make a change to your record, you may submit a statement of disagreement, declaring that you believe information in your file to be inaccurate.  The trustee must then add this statement to your file.

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Will it cost me anything to request a correction?

No.  While trustees may charge a fee for allowing you to access your files, it may not charge you a fee for requesting a correction.

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Does just anyone have the right to collect my health information?

No.  When gathering your health information, trustees must:

  1. have a legitimate reason for collecting it;
  2. tell you why it’s needed;
  3. collect only as much information as they need for the stated purpose; and
  4. get the information from you directly whenever possible.

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What about my Personal Health Identification Number (PHIN)?

Your Personal Health Identification Number, or PHIN, is protected like any other personal health information.  Only people who need it to ensure that you can get a publicly funded health care service should ask for it.  If someone outside of the health sector, a retailer say, asks for and documents your PHIN, they may be committing an offence under PHIA.

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How is a trustee required to protect my personal health information?

Trustees must take precautions to ensure that your personal health information remains confidential and secure.  Personal health information must be kept in a designated area and safeguards must be in place to ensure that only those who require your information for a legitimate reason can access it.

Trustees must have written policies regarding the security of personal health information, and must ensure that all employees are fully aware of them.

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Could my personal health information be used or sharedwithout my consent?

Yes.  While the general rule is that trustees must obtain your consent before using or sharing your personal health information, there are some exceptions. A few examples are explored on the PHIA home page.

For a more complete list of authorized uses and disclosures without consent, see sections 21 through 25 of PHIA.

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What if a family member is in hospital and I want to find out how he or she is doing?

Certain information about patients can be revealed to anyone without the patient's consent (unless the patient specifically requests otherwise), such as the patient’s general health status (e.g. critical, poor, fair, or stable) and the patient’s location (as long as revealing the location doesn’t reveal anything about a patient’s specific health condition).

Recognizing that family members should be able to check on the status of a loved one, PHIA allows for information about a patient or a resident of a health care facility to be shared with an immediate family member, or anyone else with whom the patient is known to have a close personal relationship, without the patient's consent.  Only information about health care currently being delivered can be disclosed under this clause, and the trustee must have reason to believe that the disclosure would be acceptable to the patient.

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What if a family member is receiving care in the community and I want to find out about it?

Generally speaking, if a person is receiving health care outside a hospital or personal care home, information about their care would not be shared with family members or friends without the consent of the patient.

There are some exceptions. A parent or guardian of a child who does not have the ability to make health care decisions would be able to access the child’s personal health information. A person who is legally designated to make health care decisions for another individual would also have access to that individual’s personal health information.

In most cases, however, even close relatives (e.g. spouses, siblings, parents, children) cannot access another person’s health information without that person's consent.

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What if someone I know works at a health care facility that I’ve been to?  Can s/he access my file?

PHIA requires trustees to keep personal health information in a designated area where access to the documents is restricted.  No one, not even an employee of a health care facility, can go into your file unless they have a legitimate reason for doing so.  

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What if another facility wants to receive a copy of my file from my doctor’s office or from another facility?

By default, PHIA permits trustees to disclose personal health information to other health care providers so that they can provide you with the health services you need; however, if you request that your information not be shared with other providers, the trustee would be required to keep the information confidential.

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What if a trustee has information about me that is not related to my health? Do I have a right to access it? Will it be kept confidential?

Information about you held by government departments, regional health authorities, hospitals and other public bodies that is not related to your health is considered "personal information." This information is still protected but under a separate law: The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). PHIA and FIPPA were both introduced in 1997 and are based on the same principles.

FIPPA provides you with the right to access your personal information when held by public bodies, and the right to expect that the privacy of your information will be protected. Visit the FIPPA website for more information, including instructions on how to file a request for access under FIPPA.

If personal information about you is maintained by a health care provider who works in private practice, and the information was collected for a purpose other than health care (e.g. employment purposes) PHIA and FIPPA may not apply.

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What if I believe that my rights to privacy and access have been violated?

If a trustee:

  1. fails to respond to a request for access or a correction within 30 days;
  2. refuses to grant you access to your personal health information without justification;
  3. refuses to attach a statement of disagreement to your file; or,
  4. collects, uses, or discloses your personal health information in a way that is not authorized by PHIA,

you may file a complaint with the Manitoba Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman is empowered to investigate complaints under PHIA and may also launch an investigation or audit on his or her own.  The results of the Ombudsman’s investigations may be provided to professional regulatory bodies for disciplinary action or to Manitoba Justice for prosecution.

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What is the penalty for an offence under PHIA?

A person who is found guilty of an offence under PHIA may be subject to a fine. Fines may range up to a maximum of $50,000.

Not all breaches end in prosecution. However, trustees and their employees should note that even if a breach is not prosecuted, it may still result in disciplinary action from an employer or regulatory body, public scrutiny, and the loss of a patient or client’s trust.

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Legislative Unit
Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living

300 Carlton Street
Winnipeg MB  R3B 3M9
Phone:  204-788-6612
Fax:  204-945-1020