I’m Kate Dewhirst.

My team and I write about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada.

Kate Dewhirst Health Law - bringing the law to life. Meet Kate (in 13 seconds)

Are paper health records dangerous?

Posted by

While we live in a highly digitized world, we still rely A LOT on paper in healthcare. As we move towards even more integrated care, the reliance on and existence of paper health records will be a challenge to overcome.

From a privacy perspective, paper health records can be tricky to protect from loss, theft, unauthorized use and disclosure. The piece of paper offers challenges its electronic copy does not face.


Paper health records are vulnerable to loss in a way electronic records are not.  Floods and fires can decimate paper records without backup. If a paper record is misfiled, it may be lost forever, buried in another chart in a drawer with hundreds or thousands of other charts without the benefit of the Ctrl F  functionality leaving you with the only option of manual searching.

Shredding vs. Recycling

There are a number of privacy breach cases rooted in mistaken recycling of paper health records that were meant to be shredded. Confidential shredding bins are essential equipment for healthcare teams.  Still privacy breaches abound through human error. Leaving the key in the confidential shredding bin to make it easier to fit more paper leaves the bin vulnerable to interference.  Leaving overflow bags of shredding next to the confidential shredding bin can mean they are mistaken for recycling. Using “blue bins” as interim holding bins for what should be shredded can prove dangerous when cleaners mistake the blue shredding bin for a blue recycling bin.


There is a JAMA study showing Canadian hospitals consistently found low to high sensitivity paper records with identifiable health information thrown into their garbage cans.

Inadvertent Viewing

Avert your eyes! Ever notice that bored patients or their family members will read ANYTHING available when they have to wait to be seen. They even read upside down!  When people are bored they will look for things to do.  Paper records of other patients make for fascinating reading.  Keeping a clean desk without paper records viewable to passersby can be challenging to maintain.

What’s a Privacy Officer to do?

Most healthcare teams deal with paper health records to some extent.  Privacy Officers should not forget that paper likely exists in your team and make sure to include tips on how to protect paper records in your privacy training and reminders.

If you enjoyed this article please share it:

Previous and next posts from Kate:

Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the first Wednesday of every month

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.

Health Privacy Officer Foundations training
April 13, 20, 27, May 4, 11, 18, 25 2022

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations.

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...

Join the Shush: a collective of health privacy officers
Annual membership 2022

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations

This is an annual membership program that takes theory into practice and tackles real life scenarios to build Privacy Officer skills.
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 February program will NEW TOPIC address mental health supports for leaders (with Christine Burych) and in March we discuss employment contracts.
Full details of the 2022 webinar series and registration here.

Team Privacy Training Events
January 13, 26, February 2

For Primary Care clinics, Hospitals, Community Agencies, Mental Health Teams, Public Health Units, School Boards, Police departments

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

Ontario Hospital Association Professional Staff Credentialing Toolkit

2nd Edition is now available for managing physicians, dentists, midwives and nurse practitioners in hospitals Read here...

Free summary of all PHIPA IPC decisions

Want to read privacy breach stories to learn how to improve your work? We have summarized all the Information and Privacy Commissioner's health privacy decisions for you Download here...

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

Kate says:

My mission is bringing the law to life. I make legal theory understandable, accessible and fun! I’m available and love to work for all organizations in the healthcare sector across Ontario and beyond.

Subscribe to my mailing list and keep up to date with news:

Latest Tweets

New decision of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario for health privacy. And it is a doozy!… https://t.co/HUrtQgoosq

about 6 hours ago

Join The Shush, my community for Privacy Officers in the healthcare sector. Develop knowledge, skills and judgment,… https://t.co/UUnuBt5TXt

about 10 hours ago

Years ago, I sat in coroner’s inquests and listened to testimony of health care workers after the tragic deaths of… https://t.co/Kt37qOAVcp

04:30 PM Jan 19th

contact details

P.O. Box 97010 Roncesvalles
Toronto Ontario M6R 3B3

(416) 855 9557