Ministry of Health, Health Sector, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Region, Kootenay Rockies Region, Northern B.C. Region, Provincewide, Thompson / Okanagan Region, Vancouver Coast & Mountains Region, Vancouver Island / Coast Region

New protocols protect privacy in health data research

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Health Tuesday, October 22, 2013 2:30 PM


VICTORIA - The Ministry of Health has strengthened its data privacy and security, allowing it to restore secure data access for external health researchers and to reinstate its contract with the University of British Columbia's Therapeutics Initiative.

Restoring secure data access and contracts comes after taking steps to strengthen the security of health information at the ministry, and make approved data available more quickly for researchers.

The ministry is implementing all of the recommendations made by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and those made by consulting firm Deloitte, which the ministry engaged to review its data security and access.

Some of these actions include:

  • More than 280 managers and executives at the ministry have completed mandatory privacy and data security training.
  • The ministry has improved its data management system. The ministry now allows logging and better tracking of who is accessing data and for what it is being used.
  • Beginning later this fall, the ministry will require all contractors and researchers using ministry data to participate in training focusing on information management, security and privacy.
  • Introducing random audits of how researchers are using ministry data.

The value of the contract the ministry is restoring with the University of British Columbia's Therapeutics Initiative is worth $550,000 a year. The contract pays UBC to provide health professional education and to undertake PharmaCare program evaluations. It had been suspended in September 2012.

The Therapeutics Initiative also receives funding to conduct several contracted clinical evidence reviews (drug evaluations) for the ministry. This additional funding is worth up to $150,000 and continues throughout the duration of the contract. Additional details on this contract and B.C.'s funding for independent drug evaluation is available in the backgrounder.

Learn More:

To read the Information and Privacy Commissioner's report on data security at the Ministry of Health, please visit: http://www.oipc.bc.ca/investigation-reports/1546

The report from consulting firm Deloitte to the ministry is available at: www.health.gov.bc.ca/cpa/mediasite/pdf/deloitte-report.pdf

A backgrounder follows.

Contact:

Ryan Jabs
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)

BACKGROUNDER

Data security and research at the Ministry of Health

Over the past year, the Ministry of Health has significantly improved, and continues to improve, its data security and data access procedures.

Privacy and security improvements

The ministry has fully accepted and is implementing the recommendations from Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham as part of its effort to improve security. It is also implementing recommendations from consulting firm Deloitte, which the ministry engaged to review its data security and access.

Work that is already underway or completed includes:

  • More than 280 managers and executives at the ministry have completed mandatory privacy and data security training. All other ministry employees will undergo enhanced privacy and data security training.
  • All of the ministry's divisions have inventoried the sensitive and private data they have, and how it is secured and protected.
  • Access to older, outmoded software used to work with data has been severely restricted. This software is in the process of being replaced with modern, more secure programs.
  • The ministry is creating its own privacy policy to complement the overall privacy policy for the public service. The ministry policy will be specific to the unique needs and challenges of keeping health data secure while allowing it to be used for legitimate research purposes.
  • The ministry has improved its data management system; it now allows logging and better tracking of who is accessing which data.
  • The ministry has reviewed its data access contracts to improve how it provides and secures data given to researchers and contractors.
  • Beginning later this fall, all contractors and researchers using ministry data must participate in training focusing on information management, security and privacy.
  • The ministry will introduce random audits for researchers using ministry health data to make sure that it is being used only for the ministry-approved purpose.

The ministry's internal investigation involved both personnel and systemic issues. The ministry has released information throughout the process regarding systemic problems and changes, most notably in its response to the report from the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The ministry will not be releasing any information regarding personnel matters, in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Restoration of data access and contracts

External health researchers who wish to continue to access ministry data have been asked to sign letters declaring they are not holding ministry data and did not share such data inappropriately. Those that have returned the declarations are now eligible to access ministry data for approved research purposes. Only four of 21 contractors have not returned these declarations.

The ministry has also restored its contract with the University of British Columbia's Therapeutics Initiative so that the program will once again provide health professional education and PharmaCare program evaluation work for the ministry. The contract is worth $550,000 a year and is in addition to the up to $150,000 paid to UBC drug researchers to conduct clinical evidence reviews (drug evaluations) for the ministry.

Until 2003, the Therapeutics Initiative was the only independent body which would review clinical evidence for drugs being considered for B.C. PharmaCare coverage. In 2003, the independent pan-Canadian drug review process called the Common Drug Review was created to support greater consistency and reduce duplication of effort among provinces when considering the merits of adding new medications to provincial drug formularies. Researchers with the Common Drug Review now do the majority of independent evaluations of new drugs for governments across the country.

The Therapeutics Initiative reviews those drugs not reviewed by the Common Drug Review. Because the program does less work for the ministry, the ministry reduced its base payment to the Therapeutics Initiative from about $1 million to a total of up to $700,000 a year. In addition to the $700,000 the ministry provides UBC for their work, the Ministry of Health supports the Common Drug Review with about $615,000 a year.

Contact:

Ryan Jabs
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)

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