Duties and responsibilities

Expectations of physicians in practice

Keep privacy in mind when disposing of test reports

An article for physicians by physicians
Originally published December 2004 / Revised May 2008


It is important to properly dispose of test reports.

Of interest to all physicians

The responsibility for keeping patients' medical information confidential is an accepted part of medical practice. However, recent privacy legislation across Canada, both federal and provincial, has heightened this responsibility. One example of this is the disposal of laboratory test results.

In the past, some physicians may have thought they could simply throw these test results in the waste paper basket, and may have argued that this type of disposal was appropriate. However, there have been situations, for example, where disgruntled patients or even office staff have rifled through doctors' wastebaskets and taken away discarded test results.

These patients and/or office staff have then complained to the regulatory authority (College) or to the privacy commissioner regarding the inappropriate disposal of test results. This has, of course, greatly distressed the physicians, as they were subject to an investigation by the College or privacy commissioner regarding a breach of confidentiality or privacy.

The CMPA suggests that when disposing of test results, members should exercise great caution. It may be that shredding or otherwise destroying these reports will be the best way to guarantee they are not seen by the wrong eyes.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.