The NWT now has a full-time information and privacy commissioner.

Up till January, Elaine Keenan Bengts had been filling that role alongside running her own law practice. Since the start of the month, she has shelved her own work to focus on the commissioner’s growing file in both the NWT and Nunavut.

With the Health Information Act set to come into effect this year, Keenan Bengts expects that workload – currently around 40 files per year, in the Northwest Territories – will only grow.

“This new legislation deals specifically with the privacy of health information. It’s going to increase the workload, for sure,” Keenan Bengts, whose annual report on her work as commissioner is up for public review on Friday, told Moose FM.

“At this point, we don’t know how much it’s going to increase. But one of the reasons that this was the time for me to start doing this full-time was because the Health Information Act is coming into effect.”

Keenan Bengts says it’s possible that the office may need to bring in more staff.

The new act’s provisions will help to protect the privacy of patients’ data in the NWT.

Recently, a doctor in Yellowknife caused a privacy scare by losing a USB memory stick containing information relating to some 4,000 people – including, in 52 instances, sensitive medical advice. The device was recovered several weeks later.

“There will be different rules and responsibilities imposed on healthcare providers,” said Keenan Bengts with reference to the new act, which is designed to complement the digitizing of patients’ information.

“Electronic records can be far more secure than a paper record, but there have to be certain safeguards and the Health Information Act will deal with all of that stuff,” she added.