Practice Partner

Succession Planning will Help Prevent Abandoned Records

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Abandonment 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 custodians — such as physicians — have a duty to safeguard health information until such records are appropriately transferred to another, legally authorized, custodian.

Our recently approved Closing a Medical Practice policy now requires physicians to proactively plan for unexpected practice closures, such as identifying a designate.

Brian Beamish, the Information and Privacy Commissioner (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 of care.

To that end, the IPC recommends custodians implement the following best practices to prevent abandoned records:

  • Create a succession plan that clearly identifies a successor 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 health records.
  • 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 record 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 questions or concerns about abandoned records or the duties and obligations of custodians, please contact the IPC at [email protected] or 1-800-387-0073.