Posted on Mar 23, 2020
UCP MUST ENSURE PRIVACY OF ALBERTANS’ HEALTH INFORMATION
EDMONTON – The NDP Official Opposition is calling on Jason Kenney and the UCP to address privacy issues and other concerns raised by physicians in relation to a new telehealth tool announced last week by the UCP government.
Family doctors do not have access to the Babylon App and Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar said Babylon was introduced without any consultation to the profession, and “results in fragmentation and disruption” of health care as Albertans see different Babylon physicians each time. Babylon doctors also have no access to the medical records of existing clinics and don’t contribute to those medical records. Instead, Babylon keeps its own records.
The terms and conditions of using Babylon have raised serious privacy concerns. Babylon makes explicit that the video recording of patient visits is copied and stored on Babylon’s servers, and that the video may be shared with corporate partners and entities outside of Canada, including foreign governments.
“The UCP should be investing in telemedicine support where Albertans can see and talk to their own trusted doctor,” said Alberta NDP Health Critic David Shepherd. “Instead, Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro are pushing Albertans to a foreign-owned and privately-operated phone app that offers no consistency in care. Meanwhile, family doctors are begging the government to offer them the same options for offering virtual or telephone appointments so that they can continue to care for their patients while battling the coronavirus pandemic.”
Alberta physicians have voiced serious concerns that the Babylon App is undermining family doctors who already offer a virtual service by phone.
“Even if Babylon conforms with all provincial and federal privacy laws, who on earth wants a video recording of their private medical visit shared with corporate partners and foreign governments? Why is the UCP allowing a private company to collect sensitive health information on Albertans?”
The UCP must answer the following questions about their decision to support Babylon:
- Do the terms and conditions of the Babylon App conform to privacy laws in Alberta, including Alberta’s Health Information Act?
- Why are Alberta doctors outside the ARP not permitted access or offered the ability to access the Babylon platform and serve patients? Wouldn’t this be an even bigger help in the pandemic?
- What process did Alberta Health use to evaluate the services offered by Babylon before it decided to proceed with offering the application? Was it an open RFP or a sole-source contract?
- Babylon states that doctors offering services on the application may or may not be located in Alberta. What assurance does the government have that these doctors will be up to date on the latest advice from Alberta Health Services, and the Chief Medical Officer of Health?
In an open letter to Albertans, Dr. Roseanne Penner from Saluté Family Medicine in Calgary wrote that her revenue is down over 80 per cent because, until today, she could only bill $20 for patients that have moved to virtual appointments in order to keep their distance during the pandemic. As a result, she can’t afford overhead costs and is calling on the government to increase virtual billing to $38 - the same amount as an in-person appointment.
“I feel as though I am a foot soldier on the front line of war. I know I am putting myself in harm's way. In this situation I may also be putting my immediate family in harm's way,” wrote Dr. Penner. “We all understand that - it is part of war. And we are essential for this war. The irony here is that this soldier is not being given rations or even supplies. Because if I don’t have an office, I can’t fight this war for my patients.”
AMA Concerns with Babylon:
- Babylon is not staffed by Albertans’ regular family physicians.
- Doctors on Babylon may not be based in Alberta, or have access to the latest advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
- Patients cannot have consistent follow-ups with the same Babylon physician. The AMA calls this “episodic care”.
- The physicians involved are paid on an ARP that is below the standard ARP rate. However, they are provided the “overhead” of the platform and will have very few expenses.
- Alberta doctors outside the ARP cannot use Babylon to provide service to their patients.
- Babylon physicians have no access to the medical records of existing clinics nor do they contribute to those medical records directly. Babylon physicians maintain their own record of care.
- There is no associated service for conditions that have to be physically evaluated. Evidence shows in comparison with care from a regular family physician, this model of care results in more tests, more referrals, generates more visits to emergency and results in more hospitalizations.