Cameras in Doctors’ Exam Rooms? Not in Ontario.

Last week, my office issued a health privacy decision after investigating a complaint about a Toronto cosmetic surgery clinic use of video surveillance cameras in its examination and other rooms.

I was alerted to this possible violation of Ontario’s health privacy law by a reporter for CBC Marketplace, an investigative journalism program. While researching a story, a reporter with a hidden camera noticed a surveillance camera in an exam room of the Toronto Cosmetic Surgery Institute. My office launched an investigation immediately, and soon after the CBC story ran, we were contacted by concerned patients.

It’s important to note that the clinic shut down the cameras soon after the CBC story ran and previously saved footage (except for what was seized by the College of Physicians and Surgeons) was destroyed. They also advised our office that the cameras were for security purposes, installed after several break-ins.
Ontario’s health care providers have a legal duty to protect patient privacy. They must be mindful of where the line is drawn between protecting the interests of a medical facility and maintaining the privacy that patients deserve and expect when they seek health care in this province.

While our investigation was underway, the clinic reactivated only two remaining devices in public areas of the clinic – an entrance and reception desks. They now only record after hours. They are no longer recording personal health information, and have improved public notices alerting visitors to the surveillance.

Because of the clinic’s actions, we did not proceed with a formal review.

However, this investigation brought important issues to light, particularly in a culture where boundaries are shifting, and technology, surveillance, and communication channels are rapidly evolving. Despite these cultural changes, I reject the notion that privacy is becoming obsolete.

Bottom line: positioning a camera in an exam room and collecting footage where patients are undressed, vulnerable, and without an opportunity to expressly consent violates the trust that patients must have in the medical community. Without this trust, people might avoid seeking health care when they need it … resulting in serious ramifications for the health care system in Ontario.

Brian Beamish

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