Your Privacy and Your Health Card

Being asked for identification is something just about everyone has experienced at one time or another, for example when making a large purchase or applying for a gym membership. Most of us in Ontario have also at one time or another been asked for our health card identification when visiting the doctor or the emergency room at the hospital. However, being asked for our health card outside of the health care context is something that does not occur regularly and has raised a few questions about when it is acceptable to ask for or show a health card.

In Ontario, only individuals or institutions that provide provincially-funded health care services may require you to present your health card. A doctor’s office, hospital, walk-in clinic or medical laboratory can ask to see your health card if they are providing you with health care.

Individuals and institutions that do not provide health care themselves may ask you to provide your health card or health number as long as they make it clear that it is voluntary on your part and that the information will only be used for purposes related to the provision of health care. For example, your child’s school may ask for your child’s health card number in case of an urgent medical situation. An employer may also ask for your health card number to expedite emergency medical service.

Organizations not directly involved in the delivery of provincially-funded health care are not permitted to make note of, record, collect, or use a health number for identification purposes. However, individuals are free to volunteer their health cards as a means of identification. For example, you may voluntarily decide to provide your health card to a librarian in order for them to confirm your identity for a library card. However, while the librarian may view your health card, they are not permitted to record the health number.

While you are free to show your health card to organizations outside of the health care system, it would be prudent to consider who you are showing your health card to. Identity theft is a real and growing crime as is health card fraud. If you have any concerns that your health card number has been misused, or if you have any questions about the collection, use and disclosure of health card information, you can always contact our office.

If you would like to learn more about Ontario health cards and health numbers, we have issued an FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions: Health Cards and Health Numbers.

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