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As of January 1, 2012 you will have a broader right of access to records held by Ontario hospitals as they become institutions under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

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Below are answers to some of the initial questions we have received about hospitals and freedom of information (FOI).

When will freedom of information be applied to hospitals?

Hospitals will be designated as institutions under FIPPA as of January 1, 2012. After that date you have the right to make a request for access to a range of recorded information held by hospitals, including records of personal information, that came into the custody or under the control of a hospital on or after January 1, 2007. Access to one’s own records of personal health information, however, will continue to be governed by the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

Why have hospitals been added under the legislation?
Access to information held by our public institutions is a vital ingredient for a free and functioning democratic society. This is a welcome step toward a culture of greater transparency and accountability in our hospitals, something Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has long advocated for. It also addresses the anomaly of Ontario being the only Canadian province in which hospitals were not covered by FOI legislation.

Aren’t hospitals already covered under the Personal Health Information Protection Act?
Yes, hospitals have been covered under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) since 2004. However, PHIPA only governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information and not other types of information.

Under PHIPA, you are entitled to request access to your own records of personal health information, including hospital records. PHIPA also allows a substitute decision-maker to access records of personal health information on behalf of another individual in defined circumstances.

Every hospital has a designated contact person, usually called a Privacy Officer, to facilitate these requests for health records and resolve privacy complaints under PHIPA.

So what changes with the introduction of hospitals to FIPPA?
With the introduction of FIPPA, you have a much broader right of access to records held by hospitals. For example, you may request access to records under a hospital’s custody or control relating to:
  • administrative and operational functions;
  • financial considerations and decisions; and
  • personal information
There are a number of exemptions and exclusions from the right of access. For example, where the disclosure of a record could reasonably be expected to interfere with a law enforcement matter, it may be exempt from disclosure. As another example, records that relate to the operations of a hospital foundation are excluded from the right of access.

Every hospital will need to appoint a designated Freedom of Information and Privacy Co-ordinator in order to administer the requests received under FIPPA.

How do I make a freedom of information request to a hospital?
As of January 1, 2012, you can write a letter or complete a Request Form and send it to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Co-ordinator at the hospital. You would need to include an application fee of $5.00 – a cheque or money order payable to the hospital.

What if I don’t get the information I am looking for?
A hospital needs to reply to your written request within 30 calendar days. The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) has oversight for compliance with FIPPA. If you do not receive the hospital’s response within the 30-day time frame you can appeal to our office on the basis of a “deemed refusal.”

The hospital may decide not to release all of the information that you request, in which case it would have to cite the sections of FIPPA it is using to withhold the information from you. If you disagree, you can then ask the IPC to review the decision by making an “appeal”. You can do this by writing a letter or using the IPC Appeal Form and enclosing an appeal fee of $10.00 (for personal information) or $25.00 (for general information).

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