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Table of Contents
Introduction 3
Why Document? 3
The Inter-relationships that support clients through documentation 5
Standard Statements and Indicators 6
Communication 6
Accountability 7
Security 8
Appendix A: Supporting Documentation Practices 9
Appendix B: Nursing Documentation Legislation References 10
Appendix C: Electronic Documentation Resources 11
Suggested Reading List 11
Documentation, Revised 2008
Documentation, Revised 2008 Pub. No. 41001
ISBN 978-1-77116-066-7
Copyright © College of Nurses of Ontario, 2017.
Commercial or for-profit redistribution of this document in part or in whole is prohibited except with the written consent of CNO. This
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or with the endorsement of, CNO.
First published April 1996 as Nursing Documentation Standards (ISBN 1-894557-31-X)
Reprinted January 2000, October 2000, Revised June 2002 (ISBN 1-894557-33-6), Reprinted December 2002,
Revised for Web June 2003, Reprinted January 2000, December 2005, May 2008 (ISBN 1-894557-40-9). Revised in December 2008 as
Documentation, Revised 2008. Reprinted June 2009 (ISBN 1-897308-56-6). Updated February 2017.
Additional copies of this booklet may be obtained by contacting CNO’s Customer Service Centre at 416 928-0900
or toll-free in Canada at 1 800 387-5526.
College of Nurses of Ontario
101 Davenport Rd.
Toronto, ON M5R 3P1
Ce fascicule existe en français sous le titre : Tenue de dossiers, édition révisée de 2008, no 51001
Leading in regulatory excellence
Regulating nursing in the public interest
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Nursing standards are expectations that contribute
to public protection. They inform nurses of their
accountabilities and the public of what to expect of
nurses. Standards apply to all nurses regardless of their
roles, job description or areas of practice.
— College of Nurses of Ontario
Nursing documentation is an important component
of nursing practice and the interprofessional
documentation that occurs within the client1
health record. Documentation — whether paper,
electronic, audio or visual — is used to monitor a
client’s progress and communicate with other care
providers. It also reflects the nursing care that is
provided to a client.
This practice standard explains the regulatory and
legislative requirements for nursing documentation.
To help nurses2 understand and apply the standards
to their individual practice, the content is divided
into three standard statements that describe broad
practice principles. Each statement is followed by
corresponding indicators that outline a nurse’s
accountability when documenting and provide
guidance on applying the standard statements to a
particular practice environment.
To further support nurses in applying the standards,
the document also includes appendices containing
important supplementary information and a list of
suggested readings. Appendix A provides strategies
for nursing professionals — including nurses,
researchers, educators and nurse employers — to
support quality documentation practices in their
work settings. Appendix B includes a sampling of
provincial and federal legislation governing nursing
documentation, and Appendix C references general
resources on electronic documentation.
Why Document?
Nursing documentation:
■ reflects the client’s perspective, identifies the
caregiver and promotes continuity of care by
allowing other partners in care to access the
■ communicates to all health care providers the
plan of care,3 the assessment, the interventions
necessary based on the client’s history and the
effectiveness of those interventions;
■ is an integral component of interprofessional
documentation within the client record;
■ demonstrates the nurse’s commitment to
providing safe, effective and ethical care by
showing accountability for professional practice
and the care the client receives, and transferring
knowledge about the client’s health history; and
■ demonstrates that the nurse has applied within
the therapeutic nurse-client relationship4 the
nursing knowledge, skill and judgment required
by professional standards regulations.
Whether documenting for individual clients, or for
groups or communities, the documentation should
provide a clear picture of:
■ the needs or goals of the client or group;
■ the nurse’s actions based on the needs assessment;
■ the outcomes and evaluation of those actions.
Data from documentation has many purposes:
■ It can be used to evaluate professional practice as
part of quality improvement processes.
■ It can be used to determine the care and services a
1 In this document, a client may be an individual, family, group or community.
2 In this document, nurse refers to Registered Practical Nurse (RPN), Registered Nurse (RN) and Nurse Practitioner (NP).
3 In this document, the term plan of care may refer to treatment plan, care plan, care map, service plan, case management, mental health
assessment plan, resident assessment forms, or other terms organizations use.
4 For more information, refer to the College’s Therapeutic Nurse-Client Relationship, Revised 2006 practice standard at
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
client required or that were provided.
■ Nurses can review outcome information to reflect
on their practice and identify knowledge gaps that
can form the basis of learning plans.
■ In nursing research, documentation is used to
assess nursing interventions and evaluate client
outcomes, identify care and documentation issues
and advance evidence-based practice.
Nurses are required to make and keep records of
their professional practice. As regulated health care
professionals, nurses are accountable for ensuring
that their documentation is accurate and meets the
College’s practice standards. Failing to keep records
as required, falsifying a record, signing or issuing a
document that the member knows includes a false or
misleading statement, and giving information about
a client without consent, all constitute professional
misconduct under the Nursing Act, 1991. Nursing
documentation may be accessed in College
investigations and other legal proceedings.
The diagram on page 5 illustrates the interrelationships supporting nurses in the provision of
safe, effective and ethical care.
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
The Inter-relationships that support clients through documentation
Client communicates:
■ Needs
■ Goals
■ Perspective
■ Choice and preference
Organization supports:
■ Policies and procedures manuals
■ Decision support tools
■ Environmental and human
resource supports
Nurses document:
■ Assessment
■ Planning
■ Implementation
■ Evaluation
Results of above inter-relationships
Complete documentation that demonstrates:
■ Communication
■ Accountability
■ Legislative requirements
College of Nurses of
Ontario supports:
■ Practice standards
■ Practice guidelines
■ Fact sheets
This diagram illustrates how the nursing profession,
the organizational environment and the selfregulatory framework within which nurses practise
work together to support the client to obtain and/or
maintain optimal functioning.
■ The College’s fact sheets, practice standards and
guidelines support nurses in the provision of safe,
ethical and effective care.
■ Nursing organizations support nurses with policies,
procedures and decision support tools.
■ As self-regulated professionals, they are accountable
to the practice standards that the College sets.
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Standard Statements and Indicators
Documentation, Revised 2008 includes three
standard statements and corresponding indicators
that describe a nurse’s accountabilities when
■ The standard statements describe broad principles
that guide nursing practice.
■ The indicators can help nurses apply the
standard statements to their particular practice
Nurses ensure that documentation presents an accurate, clear and comprehensive picture of the client’s
needs, the nurse’s interventions and the client’s outcomes.
A nurse meets the standard by:
a) ensuring that documentation is a complete record
of nursing care provided and reflects all aspects
of the nursing process, including assessment,
planning, intervention (independent and
collaborative) and evaluation;
b) documenting both objective and subjective5 data;
c) ensuring that the plan of care is clear, current,
relevant and individualized to meet the client’s
needs and wishes;
d) minimizing duplication of information in the
health record;
e) documenting significant communication with
family members/significant others,6 substitute
decision-makers and other care providers;
f) ensuring that relevant client care information
kept in temporary hard copy documents (such as
kardex, shift reports or communication books)
is captured in the permanent health record. For
example, if the electronic system is unavailable,
the nurse must ensure that information captured
in temporary documents is entered in the
electronic system when it becomes available
g) providing a full signature or initials, and
professional designation (RPN, RPN[Temp], RN,
RN[Temp] or NP) with all documentation;
h) providing full signature, initials and designation
on a master list when initialling documentation;
i) ensuring that hand-written documentation is
legible and completed in permanent ink;
j) using abbreviations and symbols appropriately by
ensuring that each has a distinct interpretation
and appears in a list with full explanations
approved by the organization or practice setting;
k) documenting advice, care or services provided
to an individual within a group, groups,
communities or populations (foar example, group
education sessions);
l) documenting the nursing care provided when
using information and telecommunication
technologies7 (for example, providing telephone
m) documenting informed consent8 when the nurse
initiates9 a treatment or intervention authorized
in legislation; and
n) advocating for clear documentation policies and
procedures that are consistent with the College’s
practice standards.
5 Documentation should reflect a nurse’s observations and should not include unfounded conclusions, value judgments or labelling.
6 Significant other may include, but is not limited to, the person the client identifies as being the most important in his or her life.
Examples include spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling or friend.
7 For more information, refer to the College’s Telepractice practice guideline at
8 For more information, refer to the College’s Consent practice guideline at
9 For more information, refer to the College’s RHPA: Scope of Practice, Controlled Acts Model reference document at
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Nurses are accountable for ensuring their documentation of client care is accurate, timely and complete.
A nurse meets the standard by:
a) documenting in a timely manner and completing
documentation during, or as soon as possible
after, the care or event;
b) documenting the date and time that care was
provided and when it was recorded;
c) documenting in chronological order;
d) indicating when an entry is late as defined by
organizational policies;
e) documenting at the next available entry space,
and not leaving empty lines for another person
to add documentation (when using paper
documentation forms). If there are empty lines,
the nurse should draw a line from the end of the
entry to the signature. When using an electronic
system, the nurse should refrain from leaving a
space in a free-flow text box;
f) correcting errors while ensuring that the original
information remains visible/retrievable;
g) never deleting, altering or modifying anyone
else’s documentation;
h) enabling a client to add his or her information to
the health record when there is a disagreement
regarding care;10
i) documenting when information for a specific
time frame has been lost or cannot be recalled;
j) indicating clearly when an entry is replacing lost
k) ensuring that documentation is completed
by the individual who performed the action
or observed the event, except when there is a
designated recorder, who must sign and indicate
the circumstances (for example, a code situation,
or instances when an electronic system has
technical difficulties and someone else enters the
information when the system becomes available
l) clearly identifying the individual performing
the assessment and/or intervention when
documenting; and
m) advocating at the nurse’s facility for clear
documentation policies and procedures that are
consistent with the College’s standards.
10 For more information, refer to the College’s Confidentiality and Privacy — Personal Health Information practice guideline at
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Nurses safeguard client health information by maintaining confidentiality and acting in accordance
with information retention and destruction policies and procedures that are consistent with the
standard(s) and legislation.
A nurse meets the standard by:
a) ensuring that relevant client care information is
captured in a permanent record;
b) maintaining confidentiality of client health
information,11 including passwords or
information required to access the client health
c) understanding and adhering to policies, standards
and legislation related to confidentiality;
d) accessing only information for which the nurse
has a professional need to provide care;
e) maintaining the confidentiality of other clients
by using initials or codes when referring to
another client in a client’s health record (for
example, using initials when quoting a client’s
f) facilitating the rights of the client or substitute
decision-maker to access, inspect and obtain
a copy of the health record, unless there is a
compelling reason not to do so (for example, if
disclosure could result in a risk of serious harm to
the treatment or recovery of an individual);12
g) obtaining informed consent from the client or
substitute decision-maker to use and disclose
information to others outside the circle of care;13
h) using a secure method such as a secure line
for fax or e-mail to transmit client health
information (for example, making sure the fax
machine is not available to the public);
i) retaining health records for the period the
organization’s policy and legislation stipulates
when required by the nurse’s role (for example, in
independent practice);
j) ensuring the secure and confidential destruction
of temporary documents that are no longer in
use; and
k) advocating for clear documentation policies and
procedures that are consistent with the College’s
11 For more information, refer to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s website at
12 For more information, refer to the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner’s website at
13 For more information, refer to the College’s Confidentiality and Privacy — Personal Health Information practice guideline at www.cno.
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Appendix A: Supporting
Documentation Practices
All nurses — including employers who are nurses,
researchers and educators — must demonstrate the
knowledge, skill, judgment and attitude required
of regulated health professionals. They must also
reflect on their role in improving their practice
settings, and advocate for quality nursing care
Strategies that nurses in all roles can use to support
documentation practices that meet the College’s
Documentation, Revised 2008 practice standard
■ facilitating nursing staff involvement in choosing,
implementing and evaluating the documentation
system as well as the policies and procedures
and risk management systems related to
■ providing access to appropriate, reliable and
available documentation equipment, and to IT
■ providing access to documentation equipment that
meets ergonomic standards;
■ ensuring policies are available and reflect the
documentation standards to guide practice (for
example, having explicit assessment norms and
standards of care for charting by exception);
■ ensuring that staff orientation includes
documentation systems and relevant policies and
■ ensuring that effective mechanisms are in
place to help nurses apply the organization’s
documentation policies;
■ supporting nurses’ development of information
and knowledge management competencies, and
designing continual quality improvement activities
related to effective documentation;
■ developing performance management processes
that provide opportunities to improve
■ providing adequate time to document
appropriately and review prior documentation;
■ identifying and acknowledging nursing excellence
in staff documentation;
■ having an available and open management
structure (for example, “management walkabouts”
that focus on documentation issues or trends); and
■ providing opportunities to explore or promote
team building as it relates to documentation
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Appendix B: Nursing Documentation
Legislation References
The following list contains a sampling of federal
and provincial legislation that may affect nursing
documentation. The legislation was in force at the
time this document was published.
Federal Legislation
To obtain copies of current federal legislation,
contact the Government of Canada Inquiry Centre
at 1 800 O Canada (1 800 622-6232)
or visit the Department of Justice website at www.
Access to Information Act
Personal Information Protection and Electronic
Documents Act
Privacy Act
Provincial Legislation
To obtain copies of current Ontario legislation,
contact Publications Ontario at 1 800 668-9938 or
visit the Ontario Statutes and Regulations website at
Child and Family Services Act
Coroners Act
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
Health Care Consent Act
Health Protection and Promotion Act
Mental Health Act
Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of
Privacy Act
Nursing Act, 1991
Occupational Health and Safety Act
Personal Health Information Protection Act
Public Hospitals Act
Quality of Care Information Protection Act, 2004
Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991
College of Nurses of Ontario Practice Standard: Documentation, Revised 2008
Appendix C: Electronic
Documentation Resources
Below are some general resources related to
electronic documentation.
Canada Health Infoway Canada Health Infoway:
Establishing Electronic Health Records for Canadians
Canadian Institute for Health Information
CIHI - Canadian Institute for Health Information
E-Health Ontario
Health Canada Electronic Health Record
Registered Nurses Association of Ontario Nursing
and E-health Initiative
Suggested Reading List
Ammenwerth, E., Mansmann, U., Iller, C., &
Eichstadter, R. (2003). Factors affecting and
affected by user acceptance of computer-based
nursing documentation: Results of a two-year
study. Journal of the American Medical Informatics
Association, 10(1), 69-84.
Cheevakasemsook, A., Chapman, Y., Francis, K.,
& Davies, C. (2006). The study of nursing
documentation complexities. International Journal
of Nursing Practice, 12(6), 366-374.
Hebert, M. (2000). A national education strategy
to develop nursing informatics competencies.
Canadian Journal of Nursing Leadership, 13(2),
Kossman, S.P., & Scheidenhelm, S.L. (2008).
Nurses’ perceptions of the impact of electronic
health records on work and patient outcomes.
CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 26(2),
Langowski, C. (2005). The times they are
a changing: Effects of online nursing
documentation systems. Quality Management in
Health Care, 14(2), 121-125.
Lee, T. (2006). Nurses’ perceptions of their
documentation experiences in a computerized
nursing care planning system. Journal of Clinical
Nursing, 15(11), 1376-1382.
Nagle, L.M., & Catford, P. (2008). Toward a model
of successful electronic health record adoption.
Electronic Healthcare, 7(1), 84-91.
Oroviogoicoechea, C., Elliott, B., & Watson, R.
(2008). Review: Evaluating information systems
in nursing. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 17(5), 567575.
Saletnik, L.A., Niedlinger, M.K., & Wilson, M.
(2008). Nursing resource considerations for
implementing an electronic documentation
system. AORN Journal, 87(3), 585-596.
101 Davenport Rd.
Toronto, ON
M5R 3P1
Tel.: 416 928-0900
Toll-free in Canada: 1 800 387-5526
Fax: 416 928-6507
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