Privacy Policy

Privacy of personal information is an important principle to the Student Wellness Centre (SWC.)  We are committed to collecting, using and disclosing personal information responsibly and only to the extent necessary for the goods and services we provide.  We also try to be open and transparent as to how we handle personal information.  This document describes our privacy policies.

What is Personal Information?

Personal information is information about an identifiable individual.  Personal information includes information that relates to their personal characteristics (e.g., gender, age, home address or phone number, ethnic background, family status, faculty/programme), and their health (e.g., health history, health conditions, health services received by them).  Personal information is to be contrasted with business information (e.g., an individual’s business address and telephone number), which is not protected by privacy legislation.

Who We Are

The Student Wellness Centre includes Family Physicians, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Counsellors, Social Workers, Registered Nurses, Nurse Educators, a Naturopathic Doctor, and support staff.  At various times we may also have learners on site such as Physician Residents, Psychology Interns, and nursing or medical students. We use a number of consultants and agencies who may, in the course of their duties, have limited access to personal information we hold.  These include computer consultants, accountants, temporary workers to cover holidays, credit card companies, and lawyers.  We restrict their access to any personal information we hold as much as is reasonably possible.  We also have their assurance that they follow appropriate privacy principles and sign a confidentiality agreement.

We Collect Personal Information:

Primary Purposes About Clients:  Like all health care providers, we collect, use and disclose personal information in order to serve our clients.  For our clients, the primary purpose for collecting personal information is to provide health care and personal counselling.  For example, we collect information about a client’s health history, including their family history, past health, physical condition and function and social situation in order to help us assess what their health needs are, to advise them of their options and then to provide appropriate health care.  It would be rare for us to use such information without the client’s express consent, but this might occur in the following examples:

  • There is an emergency situation and we believe the client would consent if asked and it is impractical to obtain consent
  • A family member or friend passes a message on from our client and we have no reason to believe that the message is not genuine (no information would be given to the messenger)
  • Where required by legislation e.g. informing Public Health about certain communicable diseases
  • If there are reasonable grounds to believe that disclosure of personal information is necessary to eliminate or reduce a significant risk of serious bodily harm to a person or group of persons.
  • Information has been subpoenaed.

A second primary purpose is to obtain a baseline of health and social information so that in providing ongoing health services we can identify changes that are occurring over time i.e. generating statistics. This information does not refer to individual students’ identities.

About Members of the Campus Community

For members of the campus community who are not clients of the SWC, our primary purposes for collecting personal information are to provide notice of special events (e.g., a seminar or conference) or to make them aware of services in general or the Student Wellness Centre in particular.  For example, while we try to use work contact information where possible, we might collect home addresses, fax numbers and email addresses.

We try to obtain consent before using any such personal information, but where this is not, for any reason, possible we will upon request immediately remove any personal information from our distribution

On our Web site we only collect, with the exception of cookies, the personal information you provide and only use that information for the purpose for which you gave it to us (e.g., to respond to your email message, to register for a workshop, to subscribe to our newsletter).  Cookies are only used to help you navigate our website and are not used to monitor you.

About Contract Staff, Volunteers and Students

For people who are contracted to do work for us (e.g., temporary workers), our primary purpose for collecting personal information is to ensure we can contact them in the future (e.g., for new assignments) and for necessary work-related communication (e.g., sending out pay cheques, year-end tax receipts).  Examples of the type of personal information we collect for those purposes include home addresses and telephone numbers.  It is rare for us to use such information without prior consent, but it might happen in the case of a health emergency (e.g., a SARS outbreak) or to investigate a possible breach of law (e.g., if a theft were to occur in the clinic).  If contract staff, volunteers or students wish a letter of reference or an evaluation, we will collect information about their work related performance and provide a report as authorized by them.

We Collect Personal Information:

Related and Secondary Purposes

Like most practices or businesses, we also collect, use and disclose information for purposes related to or secondary to our primary purposes. The most common examples of our related and secondary purposes are as follows:

  1. To invoice clients for goods or services not paid for at the time, to process credit card payments or to collect unpaid accounts.
  2. To advise clients that a product or service should be reviewed (e.g., to ensure a product is still functioning properly and is appropriate for their then current needs and to consider modifications or replacement).
  3. To advise clients and others of special events or opportunities (e.g., a seminar, development of a new service, arrival of a new product) that we have available.
  4. Our clinic reviews client and other files for the purpose of ensuring that we provide high quality services, including assessing the performance of our staff.  In addition, external consultants (e.g., professional Colleges, auditors, lawyers, practice consultants, voluntary accreditation programs) may on our behalf do audits and continuing quality improvement reviews of our service, including reviewing client files and interviewing our staff.
  5. Professional staff of the SWC are registered by their respective Colleges.
  6. Nurses by the College of Nurses of Ontario,
  7. Physicians by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
  8. Psychologists by the College of Psychologists of Ontario
  9. Social Workers by the Ontario College of Social Workers
  10. Naturopathic Doctor by the Board of Directors of Drugless Therapy – Naturopathy
  11. These Colleges may inspect our records and interview our staff as a part of their regulatory activities in the public interest.  In addition, as professionals, we will report serious misconduct, incompetence or incapacity of other practitioners, whether they belong to another practice or our own.. These external regulators have their own strict privacy obligations.  Sometimes their reports include personal information about our clients, or other individuals, to support the allegation of a concern (e.g., improper services).
  12. As with all practice or businesses, various government agencies (e.g., Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Information and Privacy Commissioner, Human Rights Commission, etc.) have the authority to review our files and interview our staff as a part of their mandates.  In these circumstances, we may consult with professionals (e.g., lawyers, accountants) who will investigate the matter and report back to us.
  13. The cost of some goods/services provided to clients is paid for by third parties (e.g., OHIP, UHIP, WSIB, private insurance, Assistive Devices Program). These third-party payers often have your consent or legislative authority to direct us to collect and disclose to them certain information in order to demonstrate client entitlement to this funding. Your personal information will not be released to them unless we have documentation that you have provided this consent.
  14. Clients or other individuals we deal with may have questions about our goods or services after they have been received.  We also provide ongoing services for many of our clients over a period of months or years for which our previous records are helpful.  We retain our client information for a minimum of ten years after the last contact to enable us to respond to those questions and provide these services. Professional regulatory Colleges also require us to retain our client records for at least this length of time

You can choose not to be part of some of these related or secondary purposes (e.g., by declining to receive notice of special events or opportunities, by paying for your services in advance).  We do not, however, have control over some of these related or secondary purposes (e.g. external regulation).

Protecting Personal Information

We understand the importance of protecting personal information.  For that reason, we have taken the following steps:

  1. Paper information is either under supervision or secured in a locked or restricted area.
  2. Electronic hardware is either under supervision or secured in a locked or restricted area at all times.  In addition, computers are password protected.
  3. The Electronic Health Record system has additional specific Security/Privacy features.
  4. Paper information is transmitted through sealed, addressed envelopes, or boxes by reputable companies.
  5. Fax machines are used to transmit information to diagnostic departments or specialists in a timely manner
  6. Electronic information is transmitted either through a direct line or is anonymized or encrypted.
  7. Staff is trained to collect, use and disclose personal information only as necessary to fulfill their duties and in accordance with our privacy policy.

Retention and Destruction of Personal Information

We are legally required to retain personal information for a period of time to ensure that we can answer any questions you might have about the services provided and appropriately follow up on care you have received, and for our own accountability to external regulatory bodies.  However, we do not want to keep personal information too long in order to protect your privacy.

We must keep our client files for at least ten years from your last date of service here, or until 10 years after the day on which your reached the age of 18 years. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario recommends that records be maintained for a minimum of 15 years. This is because of a provision in the Limitations Act, which states that some legal proceedings against physicians can be brought 15 years after the act or omission on which a claim is based took place. The College makes this recommendation to ensure that physicians will be able to provide evidence should it be required in any future legal proceedings brought against them.

Physicians may also be required to retain records longer than the above time periods when a request for access to personal health information under PHIPA is made before the retention period ends. Where such a request has been made, physicians must retain the personal health information for as long as necessary to allow for an individual to take any recourse that is available to them under PHIPA.27 

Psychologists must retain certain files related to early childhood sexual abuse indefinitely as there is no statute of limitations for future legal proceedings regarding such cases.

We destroy paper files containing personal information by shredding.

We destroy electronic information by deleting it and, when the hardware is discarded, we ensure that the hard drive is physically destroyed.

You Can Look at Your Information

With only a few exceptions (as per Professional College guidelines), you have the right to see what personal information we hold about you.  We can help you identify the records we have about you. We will need to confirm your identity, and receive a consent form signed by you.  We will also try to help you understand any information you do not understand (e.g., short forms, technical language, etc.) before providing you with this access.  We reserve the right to charge a nominal fee for such requests.

If we are unable to grant you access to your records, we will advise you of this, and the reason we are unable to comply with your request, within 30 days.

If you believe there is a mistake in the information we have regarding you, you have the right to ask for it to be corrected.  This applies to factual information and not to any professional opinions we may have formed.  We may ask you to provide documentation that our files are in error.  Where we agree that we have made a mistake, we will make the correction and notify anyone to whom we sent this information.  If we do not agree that we have made a mistake, we will still agree to include in your health record, a brief statement from you regarding your version of the information, and we will forward that statement to anyone else who received the earlier information. Regardless of any changes, additions or deletions made, the original version of the record must legally continue to be accessible, though not necessarily immediately visible, in your record.

Transfer of Medical Records & Counselling Records

If you are no longer a patient of the Student Wellness Centre and you would like your medical and/or counselling records transferred to another care provider please send us your request by:

  • Download and fill out the Transfer of Medical Records & Counselling Records form.  A Student Wellness Centre Physician and/or Counsellor will review the written request prior to sending the records and may contact you if further information is needed.
  • For medical AND counselling records, be sure to fill out both sections of the form.
  • A fee of $30 may be charged for such requests.
  • Drop off the form to the Student Wellness Centre reception staff or fax it in to 905-546-0805.
    • We do not accept the Transfer of Medical Records &Counselling Records form by email.
    • Legal chart requests must come directly from the law office that you are working with.
  •  You may pick your records up from the reception staff when they are ready, or we may fax or mail them to your new health care provider. Please advise on your Transfer of Medical Records & Counselling Records form if you would like them faxed or mailed or if you will collect them.
    • Large charts should be collected in person when possible.

Download the Transfer of Medical Records & Counselling Records form (pdf)


Related Documents

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Policy number 8-05 “Confidentiality of Personal Information” March/April 2006

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario Policy number 4-12 “Medical Records” May 2012



Do You Have a Question?

Rosanne Kent, Clinic Director is the Information Officer for the Student Wellness Centre. She can be reached at:

Student Wellness Centre, MUSC B101

McMaster University

1280 Main St. West

Hamilton, ON L8S 4S4


She will attempt to answer any questions or concerns you may have.