The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Privacy law is making hospitals lose patients and patient attitudes to privacy 

icWales has an article ("Privacy law is making hospitals lose patients") on the the new practice of removing--in the name of privacy--patients' nameplates from above their beds and whiteboards from nursing stations. This has led to substandard care and literally losing patients, at least in Wales. The article cites a survey published in the British Medical Journal that examined the attitudes of patients to having their names made known in this way. (Ravindra Gudena, Stanley Luwemba, Amy Williams, and Lloyd R Jenkinson, Data protection gone too far: questionnaire survey of patients' and visitors' views about having their names displayed in hospital, BMJ, Dec 2004; 329: 1491.)

Based on a very simple questionnaire, most did not find the practice of posting patients names was invasive of privacy and most felt that patient names should appear over their beds:

Responses of 243 patients and 215 visitors to questionnaires about patients in hospital having their names displayed. Values are numbers; percentages (95% confidence intervals)




Have you seen the name board or not?


173; 71 (65 to 77)

157; 73 (67 to 79)

330; 72 (68 to 77)


70; 29 (23 to 35)

58; 27 (21 to 33)

128; 28 (24 to 32)

Where should the name board be located?

In the open

182; 75 (70 to 80)

160; 74 (69 to 80)

342; 75 (70 to 79)


4; 2 (–3 to 7)

12; 6 (0 to 12)

16; 3 (2 to 5)

No preference

57; 23 (19 to 28)

43; 20 (14 to 26)

100; 22 (18 to 26)

Do you mind having your name displayed on the name board (or, does this infringe on patients' privacy?)


10; 4 (2 to 7)

21; 10 (2 to 5)

31; 7 (4 to 9)


233; 96 (93 to 98)

194; 90 (84 to 94)

427; 93 (91 to 96)

Should patients' names be displayed above their beds?


236; 97 (95 to 99)

201; 93 (90 to 97)

437; 95 (94 to 97)


7; 3 (5 to 8)

14; 7 (3 to 10)

21; 5 (3 to 7)

This raises a number of questions about the wisdom of certain privacy laws and practices in the clinical environment. I wonder whether one can imply consent to having one's name posted over their bed if a good survey strongly suggests that the majority of patients don't object and, in fact, think that posting their names is a good idea. If you couple this with an opportunity to "opt out" on the admitting form, you should be able to satisfy most of the people most of the time.


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