I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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Don’t just throw it away! New report that paper health records can cause serious privacy issues

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A new Canadian study published in the American Medical Association journal JAMA found that hospitals have a serious issue when it comes to throwing away paper copies of health records.

The study was undertaken by a group at St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto. They went through the recycling and garbage of five teaching hospitals.

The results were unsettling.

They found patient identifiable information from the recycling and garbage from all inpatient units, outpatient clinics, emergency units, Intensive Care Units, and physician offices.   The information ranged from fairly low sensitivity to high sensitivity content including actual clinical notes, diagnostic test results, prescriptions, and financial information.

The new study made headlines in Canadian news outlets.

This is not a new issue. The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has reviewed similar cases in the past at a doctor’s office and when a health facility’s shredding got sold for scrap paper to a film crew.

But it is a big issue and one that every health information custodian in Ontario needs to act on.


  1. Teach your team to shred every piece of paper.  Only recycle things like cups and cutlery.  Shred every piece of paper in a clinical setting.
  2. Avoid using print outs for scrap paper.  Calling all environmentalists! Be very careful about your instinct to reuse paper in the clinical environment.  If you happen to reuse a piece of paper and that paper has patient information on the other side – you are setting yourself and your team up for mistakes.
  3. Don’t print. We are in a digital age – but what we find is that clinicians print out reports for easier viewing and review.  Whenever you can, read clinical reports online without making a paper copy.
  4. Ensure there are lots of shredding bins available.  Make it easy for team members to shred.

Calling all Privacy Officers:

If you are tasked with overseeing compliance in your office, come join my community! My next Privacy Officer training program starts May 8th. Registration closes March 31st.


Something amazing happened.  One of my clients, an Executive Director in a family health team, shared this update with their team and reminded them to be careful about paper.  She heard back that people were taking paper health records off site with them.  She’s now able to work with the team to prevent that and find alternatives. YAY!

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Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Health Privacy Officer training
September 22, 2020

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations - now totally online.

This course focuses on how to become a more confident privacy officer and gives you the tools to document your privacy program. Full details and registration here...

Primary care webinars: Employment Law Update & Legal Issues for EDs and Board members

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our September program is on privacy litigation and the October program will address harassment issues and scenarios.
Full details of the 2020 webinar series and registration here.

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the first Wednesday of every month (Off for the Summer - next up: September 2 and October 7)

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Free Part X CYFSA privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the second Wednesday of every month (next up: July 8 and August 12)

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Team Privacy Training Events
July 8, 23, 28 August 4, October 7, 8

For Primary Care clinics, Hospitals, Community Agencies and Children’s Aid

Kate trains health professionals from many more health care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

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Toronto Ontario M6R 3B3

(416) 855 9557