Monday, February 13, 2006

Alberta pharmacist justified in collecting personal information to dispense insulin

Pharmacies are a hotbed of privacy issues as of late, particularly as the practice of pharmacy continues its transformation from vendors of medication to members of the "healthcare team."

An individual recently complained to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta after being required to provide personal information to purchase insulin. Insulin is not a prescription medication, but is rather a "Schedule II" drug, meaning that it has to be dispensed by a pharmacist. The pharmacist refused to sell the insulin without the person's name, date of birth and other information. The individual then complained to the Commissioner under the province's Health Information Act.

The individual's complaint was not upheld by the Commissioner in a decision handed down today:

[para 43] The Pharmacist’s practice of collecting the prospective purchaser’s name, address, date of birth and phone number and relevant information pertaining to any allergies or medical conditions for the sale of Insulin is authorized by section 20(b) of the Health Information Act.

[para 44] This investigation was initiated based on a complaint regarding an individual’s attempt to purchase Insulin. The outcome may not be the same for the sale of other drugs listed in Schedule 2 of the Pharmaceutical Profession Act.

The full report is available at the Commissioner's website: Investigation Report H2006-IR-001.

Here is the response from the Alberta College of Pharmacists:

ACP Response to Privacy Commissioner Report:

EDMONTON, Feb. 13 /CNW/ - The Alberta College of Pharmacists (ACP) is pleased that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has supported a pharmacist's authority to collect health information from an individual under the Health Information Act (HIA).

"Pharmacists are health professionals," says Karen Wolfe, ACP president. "It is our responsibility to ensure your drug therapy is appropriate and safe."

Collecting information to determine whether a medication is right for you means a pharmacist should ask you about your medical condition and about other drugs you are taking, remarks Wolfe.

"Pharmacists need to know about your health status, your symptoms and other related health information to determine if a drug product is the right one for you," she notes.

Wolfe was responding to a report released today by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner indicating that a pharmacist's collection of the prospective purchaser's name, address, date of birth, phone number and other relevant information pertaining to any allergies or medical conditions is appropriate. The report is based on a complaint related to the purchase of insulin, a Schedule 2 drug, i.e., a drug that is held in the dispensary but does not require a prescription.

Wolfe adds, "Many Albertans do not understand that obtaining a Schedule 2 drug is not a simple retail transaction." An appropriate assessment about the patient's condition, selection of the right drug therapy, and advice about using the drug are important parts of the process.

Wolfe comments that pharmacists by law are required to keep your health information private and confidential. "Any information we collect will be used only for patient care," she says.

The Alberta College of Pharmacists is the regulatory and licensing body for pharmacists and pharmacies in Alberta.

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