Retention of Health Records

This is applicable to RPNs in independent practice or otherwise storing health records

Registered Psychiatric Nurses, like other health care professionals, can be sued by patients or former patients or their families. If a claim is made against an RPN, it can be helpful for the RPN to have access to the entire patient health record, including clinical, appointment and financial records (collectively referred to here as the “Health Records”). Accordingly, for RPNs in independent practice or otherwise storing Health Records, it is important to know how long to keep Health Records. Record retention practices are affected by the time within which a legal claim can be made against an RPN.

The B.C. Limitation Act (the “Act”) sets out the time periods within which a lawsuit can be commenced in the civil justice system. A new Limitation Act came into force on June 1, 2013 and the new maximum timeframe within which a person can sue someone else, is 15 years, with exceptions (some of which are explained below*). A person who is sued must be notified of the lawsuit within 12 months of the lawsuit being commenced. This means that it could be 16 years after the event giving rise to the claim before the person being sued becomes aware of the lawsuit.

For these reasons, Health Records in which the most recent entry was on or after June 1, 2013 should be retained for 16 years from the date of the last entry in the Health Record or from the date triggered by one of the exceptions below, whichever is the latest.

*Some Exceptions:

  1. If the patient is under the age of 19, Health Records must be retained until the patient is 19 years old plus a further 16 years.
  2. If a patient has a mental disability, the 16-­‐year period begins to run when the patient recovers from the mental disability. If the mental disability is permanent, there is no limitation period.
  3. There is no limitation period for assault or battery if the assault or battery occurred while the claimant was a minor or dependant.
  4. There is no limitation period for sexual assault claims.

Health Records in which the most recent entry was created before June 1, 2013, must be kept for 31 years from the date of the last entry or until June 1, 2029, whichever comes first. This requirement is subject to exceptions, including those for minors and persons under a disability. In those cases, document retention requirements could be longer than 31 years. Those exceptions are not addressed here.

The obligation to retain health records is not interrupted by termination of registration (on retirement, for example).

An explanation of the new Act, including transition information and a link to the new Act and a video, is available on the BC Ministry of Justice website, at the following link:

Other laws may also determine time limits but, subject to certain exceptions, if they do not, the Act applies. There are also exceptions within the Act that are not described here. This is provided as general information. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon for that purpose. There are additional exceptions to those described here. Registered Psychiatric Nurses who have specific questions about the Limitation Act should review the legislation and consult a lawyer.


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