Nina Hanif, a pharmacist at the Zellers in Westmount Mall, stands oustside the London store on Tuesday April 17, 2012.
Credits: CRAIG GLOVER/QMI AGENCY
Canada's Hudson's Bay Co. announced the sale in March. Records from 95 Zellers stores slated to be closed or turned into Target stores were sold to supermarket giant Loblaw for $35 million. Records from some other Zellers stores were sold to grocery chain Metro and to Walmart, the world's largest retailer.
Marshall Moleschi, registrar of the Ontario College of Pharmacists, said the pharmacy itself -- whether a small independent or a mega-corporation chain -- owns your medical records, and it is allowed to sell them. Customers aren't required to transfer to the purchasing pharmacy, but even so, that pharmacy must keep the records for at least 10 years.
"All pharmacists have a professional duty to protect patients' confidentiality, and that duty is enforced by the Ontario College of Pharmacists," Moleschi said.
When Hudson's Bay Co. made the Zellers records sale to Loblaw, patients received form letters, and some were shocked it was the corporation that owned their pharmacy records and not the pharmacist with whom many had a decade- or two-long relationship.
Some even cried at what they feared was an invasion of their private medical records, said Nina Hanif, a pharmacist at the Zellers store here and one of eight pharmacists who went to court to try to block the sale.
Many more patients were surprised, unaware of contracts between pharmacists and Zellers that gave the chain custody of their records.
The College says that patient concerns aren't warranted, that even pharmacists at big chains have the same legal responsibility to safeguard a patient's privacy.
But while the law affords protection, some say that's not enough -- that patients also need assurance that is based on a personal relationship with their pharmacist.
"In a lot of cases they built up a 20-year-rapport," said pharmacist Jeff Robb. "They should be able to continue it . . . . They've been going to Zellers not because it's Zellers, but because of the pharmacist," he said.
Moleschi said such sales require the transfer of patient records to the purchasing pharmacy to preserve the continuity of care, and that patients have the right to also request their records be transferred elsewhere.