You never realize how many old documents you have been collecting in your cabinet until it’s almost become impossible to find the new ones.
Physicians and healthcare professionals are legally required to maintain accurate medical records to provide their patients with the best possible care. Medical records are essential documents as they keep important aspects of care receivers’ medical history, including test results, care plans, prescribed medications, treatments performed, and whatnot.
With such extensive and important information in these documents, healthcare providers find it difficult to figure out how long to keep medical records.
This informative piece will discuss how long you should retain medical records and some tips for storing these documents more efficiently.
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When it’s come to keeping medical records, there is no one general guideline. Instead, it depends on the type of document and the state law.
Some medical records like childbirth or major surgery should be kept for an indefinite period, while for other types, it is suggested to keep them on hand to deal with sudden emergency cases.
As a general rule, care receivers should keep their medical records for the time period in which they can take legal action against the healthcare provider. What does that mean? A patient should maintain their healthcare records for at least 2 years post-treatment.
That said, medical malpractice claims differ as the care receivers don’t always discover the damage due to malpractice until many years after the treatment. Therefore, the timeline for medical malpractice claims can be stretched further beyond the basic limitation period up to nearly 15 years after the suffered injury.
This is the reason why experts suggest patients keep their medical records for a minimum of 15 years after the treatment. Parents are required to do the same for their children’s healthcare records, as they can take legal action against the healthcare provider within 15 years of the suffered medical injury.
Also Read: Pros and Cons of Electronic Medical Records
HIPAA policy applies to different medical records, including prescriptions, diagnostics, billing records, etc. it requires retaining the records for 6 years from the date they were created.
Many healthcare providers use the following guidelines to retain their patient’s medical records to avoid any complications:
- Adult health records: 10 years following the last use date
- Minor Health records: Majority age combined with the existing statute of limitations
- Adult diagnostic images: 5 years
- Minors diagnostic images: 5 years after the majority age
- Disease index: 10 years
- Operative index: 10 years
- Register of Death/Birth: Forever
- Physician Index: 10 years
There is no definitive answer as to how long healthcare providers keep their patient’s records. That said, many providers maintain their patient’s records for a minimum of 7 years following the care receiver’s 18th birthday.
Since the duration varies from state to state, some even require keeping their patient’s records for longer. For instance, in New York, a medical professional must keep their adult patient’s history for a minimum of 6 years. For a minor, the state suggests keeping their medical records for 6 years after they turn 18.
According to HIPAA Privacy Rule in 1996, healthcare professionals are accountable for maintaining and protecting their patients’ medical information. While the policy has not specified a time period to keep medical records as it is unique for every state, it confirms that all types of medical records must be kept for at least 6 years in general from the development date.
That said, some states require keeping their patient’s medical records for more than 6 years, which means the minimum retention period for every state is unique in the US. In fact, some states have even shorter time than 6 years to keep their care receivers’ records.
Like the retention of medical records, destruction must comply with the state’s rule. Once the HIPAA record retention period is over, the documents can be safely destructed through secure shredding.
Some states in the US require their healthcare professionals to develop an abstract to notify the patients that their formal medical records have been safely disposed off as per the state’s policy guidelines.
Also, the disposition of HIPAA records must ensure that the information on those records is unrecoverable. HIPAA-covered entities should strictly keep a record of the following:
- Destruction method
- Destruction date
- Inclusive dates
- Details of disposed of medical information
- Destruction witnesses’ signatures
With newer ways to store medical documents more safely and securely, healthcare professionals are now switching to digital record management than paper records. That said, still, many healthcare providers have extensive old paper records after switching to digital methods.
Nowadays, healthcare providers resort to EHR (Electronic Health Records) to digitally store their patient’s confidential information.
To help you understand why you should switch to EHR as a healthcare provider, we have listed the major benefits of using it.
1. Low Operation Cost
Using EHR can drastically reduce a hefty operating cost in the following ways:
- Supply Cost: Since EHR records are all digital, you will save big on paper, printer ink, toner, file cabinets, and shelving costs to develop and maintain those documents.
- Labor Cost: With digital records, you won’t need labor work to retrieve, copy and refile those medical records. Hence you get more value for your money.
- Shelve cost: When you store information manually on papers and files, you need to have a lot of shelve space to store them. On the other hand, keeping them digitally will save you on real estate expenses and make retrieving documents easier.
2. Enhance Productivity
Indeed, EHR boosts productivity and reduces bottlenecks, making your work easier and better, here’s how:
- If your document is stored in your consolidated electronic system, you just need to enter the keyword in the search bar to retrieve your document. Hence, it will save you time from going through multiple documents to get your required one.
- With EHR, several everyday tasks like tracking and maintaining documents become much easier by automating.
- With no space required to store paper documents, you will have more room to take patients and generate revenue.
3. Better Security
Lastly, EHR systems are incredibly efficient in protecting sensitive PHI, ensuring conformity with HIPAA privacy guidelines. Here are what it offers in terms of security:
- Multiple-Tiers of Access control
EHR can limit who can access information by installing password-based access control. For confidential files, you can place multiple-tier access control.
In order to avoid external threats, the EHR system uses encryption. Therefore, the hacker will need a decryption key to access the information even if the system has been compromised.
According to state law, healthcare providers are required to maintain their patients’ records 10 years after the treatment of the discharge date. As for minors, the information must be stored until they turn 23.
A healthcare professional or their assistant is required to keep health records of their patients for at least 5 years of the time period.
NYS Department of Health clearly states that the health care records of adult patients should be retained for 6 years. In the case of minors, the records must be kept for 6 years after the patient reaches adult age.
According to Florida’s healthcare department, the healthcare experts must maintain the medical records for 5 years. After that, they are allowed to dispose of them with no legal consequences.
Illinois requires their health professionals to protect the patient’s information for 10 years. That said, there is no law about physicians holding patients’ records. In fact, patients can retrieve their personal records to get copies if the facility has them.
Texas doctors must store their patients’ healthcare records for a minimum of 7 years. Hospitals and care providers can keep these records longer if they want.
Georgia healthcare laws state that once the patient is discharged, their healthcare records must be retained for a minimum of 10 years. They also should provide patients with their medical records within thirty days upon request.
Regardless of their state, healthcare providers must retain their patients’ healthcare records for extended periods to avoid legal complications. If you decide to dispose of them, make sure your state’s retention period has expired. Lastly, if a care receiver is a Medicare beneficiary, their healthcare records can be kept for 10 straight years.