Privacy FAQ

Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about privacy, personal health information and health records. 

‘Personal health information’ is any information that identifies an individual and connects that individual to receiving care at Unity Health Toronto. It includes information that relates to an individual’s physical or mental health, diagnoses, testing, treatment, family health history, Substitute Decision Makers, and/or care providers.

In order to provide the best possible care for you and your family, it is necessary for us to collect, use and disclose personal health information. We collect only information that is needed to provide health care and support to our patients, residents and clients. If we need information for other reasons (e.g. to get your feedback, to understand our patient population, to do some types of research), we will ask for your consent before collecting this information.

In addition to using your personal health information to treat and care for you, Unity Health Toronto is also allowed to use that information or any de-identified information to:

  • Conduct risk management activities
  • Educate our agents such as students and physicians
  • Conduct research
  • Compile statistics
  • Comply with legal and regulatory requirements
  • Fulfil other purposes permitted or required by law
  • Plan, administer and manage programs, services and internal operations, and enhance your safety and security in the hospital
  • Get payment for your treatment and care (from OHIP, WSIB, your private insurer or others)
  • Conduct quality improvement activities (such as sending patient satisfaction surveys)
  • De-identify it, whenever possible, as a way to protect your information when we are handling it for purposes not related to your direct care

De-identification is the process of removing or changing pieces of information that can be used to identify you (such as your name or address). After doing a risk assessment, Unity Health will use an appropriate method of de-identification to make sure that the de-identified data will likely not be used to re-identify you.

Our Data Science and Advanced Analytics (DSAA) program uses personal health information to create artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics solutions that help us do some of the tasks listed above. AI is a kind of technology that allows machines to do tasks that would normally be done by humans, such as analysis or prediction. Creating and using AI and analytics solutions helps us to provide the best possible care and plan for internal programs and operations.

Yes, Unity Health Toronto uses personal health information, as well as de-identified information, for research and quality improvement.

The rules for research are set in the law (PHIPA) and must be followed. Often you are asked for your consent to participate in research, but some types of research involving the use of your personal health information (that carry a very low risk of harm to you) may be approved by the Research Ethics Board without your consent.

With the proper approval of the Research Ethics Board, this data may be used as part of retrospective research studies (where we look at personal health information created in the past and over time). In some studies, we use artificial intelligence, where machines help us identify patterns that are occurring and inform decisions around a diagnosis or treatment.

We may send your information externally for the following reasons:

To support your care

Unless you tell us not to, your personal health information is disclosed to care providers outside of Unity Health Toronto who are involved in your ‘circle of care’, only if the information is needed to provide you with care or assess whether it is appropriate to provide you with care (for example, to refer or transfer you).

This may include sending your personal health information to a care provider outside of Unity Health Toronto to get a consultation or second opinion on your situation, without you having to visit that care provider yourself. If you are capable of consenting, we will talk to you about this consultation. If you can’t consent, and need urgent care, we may share your information without your consent to get the expert opinion we think that you need. In both cases, we record what the consulting care provider said in your Unity Health record.

Often we use electronic systems that are shared (accessible) by health-care organizations across Ontario. When you are referred to or go to visit a new care provider, these systems allow us to share your personal health information with your care providers at other institutions and to see the information that they produce about you. These systems securely share electronic information to provide timely and coordinated patient care.

At Unity Health Toronto, the following shared electronic systems are used to support patient care:

System Operator Description
Connecting Ontario (cON) eHealth Ontario ConnectingOntario (cON) is a central repository that stores core elements of patient’s health records (e.g. common diagnostic test results, discharge summaries) that another provider could use for continuity of care. The system is used for patients of any age, experiencing all types of conditions. For more information please visit the ConnectingOntario website.
Patient Results Online (PRO) University Health Network Patient Results Online (PRO) enables many sites throughout the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (TCLHIN) to access core elements in the health records at each site. The system is used for patients of any age, experiencing all types of conditions.
Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS) eHealth Ontario (on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care) Ontario Laboratories Information System (OLIS) allows hospitals and community laboratories to share laboratory, cytology and pathology test results. For more information please visit the eHealth Ontario website.
Digital Health Drug Repository (DHDR) eHealth Ontario (on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care) Digital Health Drug Repository (DHDR) allows care providers to see medications recorded in MOHLTC repositories. For more information please visit the eHealth Ontario website.
Hospital Diagnostic Image Repository Services (HDIRS) Scarborough Health Network Hospital Diagnostic Image Repository Services (HDIRS) allows hospitals to share diagnostic images and results. This protects patients because it avoids duplication of tests and may decrease the expose of patients to radiation.
Diagnostic Imaging Repository GTA West (DI-r West) CGI Diagnostic Imaging Repository GTA West (DI-r West) allows hospitals to share diagnostic images and results. This protects patients because it avoids duplication of tests and may decrease the expose of patients to radiation.
Resource Matching & Referral (RM&R) University Health Network (on behalf of the Toronto Central LHIN) Resource Matching & Referral (RM&R) allows care providers to match patients to the right health care and community services, through referrals and the transmission of some information to support the referral. For more information please visit the RM&R website.
electronic Child Health Network (eCHN) eCHN/SickKids Child Health Network (eCHN) is for children’s medical records. About 40 hospitals in Ontario provide eCHN with laboratory results, doctor’s notes, X-rays and visit information. Community pediatricians may have access to the system. For more information please visit the Electronic Child Health Network website.
Integrated Assessment Record (IAR) CCIM (on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care) Integrated Assessment Record (IAR) enables the sharing of standard assessments completed in inpatient mental health units, long term care homes, community support services, community mental health services, and community addictions services. For more information please visit the CCIM website.
Provincial Hospital Resource System (PHRS) Hamilton Health Sciences (on behalf of CritiCall Ontario) The Repatriation Tool enables hospitals to share information necessary for the purpose of transferring patients from highly specialized acute care hospitals to other acute care hospitals for the remainder of their care. For more information please visit the CritiCall website.
Health Report Manager (HRM) OntarioMD Community-based physicians and nurse practitioners who use certain EMRs in their practice can receive hospital reports through HRM, rather than in the mail or through fax. For more information please visit the OntarioMD website.

Please contact the Privacy Office or talk to the clinic/unit manager if you do not want your information to be shared with external care providers. We will discuss the options that are available to you along with the potential positive and negative consequences of your decision.

When Unity Health identifies potential benefits for the healthcare system, it may share your personal health information externally with third party providers (such as the manufacturer of a medical device that we use at Unity Health). The third party provider may use the de-identified data for their research and development. Unity Health takes steps to ensure that the third party has appropriate privacy and security controls in place for the use, disclosure, storage, and retention of the data.

To fundraise

Unless you tell us not to, we will give your name and address to our foundations for fundraising:

You can also contact each foundation to be removed from their mailing list.

To enable a religious or spiritual advisor to visit you in the hospital or Cardinal Ambrozic Houses of Providence

Unless you tell us not to, we may provide your name and location to an appropriate religious or spiritual advisor (based on the religion that you gave to us when you registered) to visit you in the hospital or Houses.

To communicate with your family or friends

If we have your consent, we will communicate your information to your next of kin, friends or family.

To adhere to the law

The Personal Health Information Protection Act requires and permits us to give some of your personal health information, where appropriate, to a number of groups, including but not limited to:

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care e-health projects, such as the Enterprise Master Patient Index (EMPI) Wait Time Information System

Registries and entities prescribed in regulation such as INSCYTE, Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, the Institute for Clinical Evaluation Sciences, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and the Ontario Institute for Health Research

  • Researchers, if the research has been approved by our Research Ethics Board
  • The Medical Officer of Health to report communicable diseases
  • The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
  • Law enforcement officers who present a warrant or subpoena, or to aid in an investigation
  • The Children’s Aid Society where child abuse is suspected; the children’s lawyer
  • The public guardian and trustee
  • The coroner

Yes. You also have the right to request corrections. Please note that birth and death records must be requested from the Government of Ontario’s Office of the Registrar General. Please go to the Accessing Your Health Record for more information about accessing personal health information in a patient health record at this time.

Yes. A Substitute Decision Maker has the same right to access the patient’s record as the patient would if your relative were capable. You may be asked to complete a form requesting access or to provide evidence that you are the patient’s Substitute Decision Maker.

Unless you object, we will provide general information about your health status. This includes the name of the clinical program you are in, where your room is located, and your general health status, such as “doing well” or “no change.” If someone is seeking more detailed information on your health, they will require written consent from you or your Substitute Decision Maker.

Upon discharge, health records are kept in for a minimum of 10 years, in accordance with provincial legislation.

Yes. You can communicate with the hospital through electronic means like emails or text messages, but only if we have your consent to do so.

Remember emails and text messages are not protected in the same way that phone calls and letter mail are protected. You should be aware of the risks and terms associated with using emails or text messages for care. You can learn more about these risks in this Patient Information Sheet.

You can change your mind at any time and withdraw your consent to communicate via emails and text messages by contacting your doctor or care team.

While Unity Health Toronto takes steps to avoid processing or storage of data outside of Canada where possible, some support services are provided by vendors in the U.S or subject to U.S. laws. In these cases, patient personal information is subject to the laws of the foreign jurisdiction which may be different, and less protective, than those of Canada.

Last updated November 14, 2023