The recent news about the "lost" cancer reports that were sent to doctors around Ontario was the topic of some coverage on the CBC radio this morning. Why is this important? The story is really all about paperless filing.
The interview was with the Ontario Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cauvoukian who is incensed that Cancer Care Ontario used the postal courier system to send paper copies of colon cancer screening reports to family doctors. Many of these documents appear to have been ignored when they reached doctors offices (scary?) and others are still unaccounted for, lost somewhere in the mail system.
Her greatest condemnation of the situation was her assertion that there was no reason to send these paper records at all. As she said in the interview when they are in paper they cannot be encrypted. When they get lost the personal information on the records is available to anyone who finds the documents. There is no protection. Her anger was directed more to the form of the data than to the errors causing them to be lost. She said that loosing the records is bad, but the fact they were unprotected by being in paper record form was the real problem.
Contrast that, she says, to an electronic record that can be encrypted on the media with the encryption key sent separately to the doctor so only the intended reader can open the file. She says sending an encrypted USB stick or CD/DVD would have solved the problem which is now the subject of great concern, scrutiny and costing many people thousands of dollars to correct.
So if the watch person for privacy in Ontario, Canada's largest province, is concerned about keeping and transporting critical information in paper form, should you be as well?
While your business information might not be as critical as cancer reports what damage could be done if special pricing you supplied to a client got into the wrong hands? What cost could occur for correcting a misplacement of paper materials. What about the personal information held in your HR records? What about health care claim forms that you might hold? What about information on your client's activities that might be damaging to them if your information got into the wrong hands? You are responsible both morally and legally for protecting private information.
Still love your paper? Many people do, inspite of all of the information, tools, and means for making conversion to electronic records (paperless filing) an easy and highly affordable opportunity.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario Privacy Commissioner has said it clearly in this instance. Paper was wrong. Electronic was right. It could not be more clear than that!