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Player Privacy and Medical Information

No media outlet should pursue releasing medical information on a player without going through the proper channels.

New Jersey Devils v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Yesterday the Winnipeg Jets released a fairly detailed statement about Bryan Little and what happened to him after he sustained a head injury in the game against the New Jersey Devils. The statement went into detail that Little received stitches at St. Boniface General Hospital and then was transferred to the Neurological Unit at Health Sciences Hospital. The update is quite open about what occurred after Little left the ice and leaves little up for interpretation.

First of all, the Jets do not have to be so upfront about what is going on, but by being so open about what Little is going through they are stopping speculation. They are letting everyone know that Little is where he should be, conscious, and getting the medical help he needs. As someone who has many people in medicine in my family, I have been taught that sometimes the best place for someone who requires care is a hospital. It sounds like this is the case for Little and it is good that he is in the right place for his needs. The team says they will provide more updates when they can which hopefully means it will be in consultation with Little and his family.

That said, there has been an issue with all of this. Global News Winnipeg felt like they should dig around to find out what is actually going on with Little. It is one thing if Bob McKenzie drops that Dustin Byfuglien is contemplating retirement and another thing to leak a player’s medical information like it seems like Global News is doing. The fact that the Jets released a long update should be enough. Players and staff need to be given privacy until they are ready for information to be released.

A brief aside, but anyone who works at a hospital cannot ask someone why they are there. My dad used to run into people he knew all the time when he worked and he only knew why they were there if they volunteered the information to him.

No one is under an obligation to dig into someone’s private medical records to pull up private information because the person in question plays hockey. Depending on the source, this could very well be information obtained through a violation of PHIA (Personal Health Information Act). Little and every other hockey player, is a private citizen with a public job. There is no obligation for the Jets or Little along with his family to detail what he is going through right now. If they choose to release the diagnosis, that is up to them.

WHEREAS health information is personal and sensitive and its confidentiality must be protected so that individuals are not afraid to seek health care or to disclose sensitive information to health professionals;

AND WHEREAS individuals need access to their own health information as a matter of fairness, to enable them to make informed decisions about health care and to request the correction of inaccurate or incomplete information about themselves;

AND WHEREAS a consistent approach to personal health information is necessary because many persons other than health professionals now obtain, use and disclose personal health information in different contexts and for different purposes;

AND WHEREAS clear and certain rules for the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information are an essential support for electronic health information systems that can improve both the quality of patient care and the management of health care resources

I have highlighted the key part: patient confidentiality is key. The Jets released a lot of information already and I think it is fair to say whatever Little is going through is not a run of the mill concussion if he has been sent to the Neurological Unit. However, it is no one’s place to say until Little and his family decide to speak either through the Jets or themselves in whatever form. Unless they speak on the record, it seems dubious to have a source inside a hospital sharing information about a high-profile patient and if the family was willing to speak, would that information not be coming through the Jets in the form of an update?

Information about player health should be tightly guarded information. Information on it should be coming from official channels and not from the vague “sources”. While fans might feel entitled to knowing what is going on when a player is out, they are not. Instead, the player is entitled to privacy while they are healing and even after unless they want the information public.