The purpose of this column is to answer questions about issues that we either hear about frequently, or
that have a wide applicability across the profession. If you have any questions or topic suggestions for this
column, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Planning will Help
bandonment of health records continues to
be a problem in Ontario, resulting in serious
implications for the privacy of individuals
and the security of their health information.
Under Ontario’s health privacy law, health-care custodi-
ans – such as physicians – have a duty to safeguard health
information until such records are appropriately trans-
ferred to another, legally authorized, custodian.
Our recently approved Closing a Medical Practice
(see facing page) policy now requires physicians to
proactively plan for unexpected practice closures, such
as identifying a designate.
Brian Beamish, the Information and Privacy Commis-
sioner (IPC) of Ontario, says that he is still seeing too
many instances in which records have been abandoned.
After a review of the issue, his office found that records
are vulnerable to abandonment when there is a change
– such as incapacity, bankruptcy, relocation, retirement
or death – in a health-care professional’s practice.
Mr. Beamish also found that the consequences of
abandoned records are far-reaching. Not only do they
include an increased risk of privacy breaches, but they
may also deprive individuals of their right to access and
correct their health records and disrupt the continuity
To that end, the IPC recommends custodians imple-
ment the following best practices to prevent abandoned
• Create a succession plan that clearly identifies a suc-
cessor and sets out their responsibilities, and those of
any agents (such as a record storage company) who
will assist with the retention, transfer or disposal of
• Ensure the plan identifies a person who will be
responsible during the transfer of records for:
- maintaining the security of records
- responding to patients’ access requests
- making agreements with agents (such as a re-
cord storage company) setting out their duties
concerning the records
- notifying patients of the transfer
• Review and update the plan on a regular basis and
when there is a change in circumstances that could
affect the transfer of those records to a successor.
To learn about other measures to prevent abandoned
records, custodians should refer to Avoiding Abandoned
Records: Guidance for Health Information Custodians in
the Event of a Change in Practice. If you have any ques-
tions or concerns about abandoned records or the duties
and obligations of custodians, please contact the IPC at
email@example.com or 1-800-387-0073.
ISSUE 3, 2019 DIALOGUE