Q: Can I accept verbal consent from a client for email communication?

A: Yes. There are multiple considerations when considering email communications with clients. The first is ensuring the security and confidentiality of client personal health information.

The Standards for Consent note that consent can be “written or oral, express or implied,” any format is acceptable. The College does not require OTs use a signed consent form when documenting consent, however doing so may be considered best practice in some service areas. How to document verbal consent is outlined in Standard 8.

The Standards for Record Keeping sets out the expectations for OTs when using electronic communications.  OTs should ensure they have the appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect personal health information. Safeguards may include limiting client information in the subject line (data minimization), confirming email addresses, use of password or encryption, and incorporating a confidentiality statement to affix to any outgoing communications.

The occupational therapist will need to set clear expectations for electronic communication to ensure that professional boundaries are maintained. For example, clearly outlining what information is appropriate to be sent by email and discussing when the client can expect a response (for example, business hours only).  These same considerations also apply to texting and in any case, all client communication needs to be represented in the clinical record.

If you work within an organization, be sure to check policies regarding sharing information electronically. If you are in private practice, consider developing a policy about electronic communications that can be available on request. 

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has some useful resources:

Remember, our Practice team is here to help. Contact the Practice Resource Service at 416.214.1177 ext. 240 or email practice@coto.org


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