Patient Medical Records and Retention Times

In 2017 alone over 3,000,000 healthcare records were breached. The total number of medical record breaches continues to increase year over year, and experts don’t see this phenomenon slowing down anytime soon.

Both large and small medical organizations are targeted as hackers try to find the quickest and easiest ways to steal the most information.

Hackers target all types of personal information, such as credit card and tax-related info, but medical records are a prime target for criminals because of the vast amount of private, valuable information they contain.

To combat the ill effects of healthcare breaches, healthcare organizations are held to a high standard and are heavily regulated to ensure patient information security.

Record retention laws have been established to keep the information contained in medical records as safe as possible. These laws classify types of records and specify a specific length of time they need to be kept for. Once a record expires, it should be effectively destroyed immediately.

This article focuses on record retention laws and guidelines, why they are important, and provides tips to ensure your practice is keeping in compliance.

Why Record Retention Times Are Important

Record Retention Periods Establish a Data of Expiration for Medical RecordsThe best way to keep private information safe is to never write it down. Unfortunately for the healthcare industry, this is impossible.

Diligent record keeping is necessary to provide thorough and correct patient care, but having robust amounts of personal details in writing presents a catch twenty-two scenario.

To ease the strain on healthcare institutions, record retention periods were created to make a simple, standardized record management process that healthcare providers can rely upon.

With specific guidelines in place for how long to keep all types of private records, medical offices can easily sort and organize their files, streamlining record keeping procedures while maintaining a strict, high level of security.

Medical Record Retention Laws

The most pertinent nationwide regulations regarding medical record keeping stem from HIPAA.

Passed in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted with several goals all centered around medical record security and simplifying the record keeping process for healthcare practitioners.

HIPAA and Records RetentionHIPAA is broken up into five distinct titles:

Title I: HIPAA Health Insurance Reform

Title II: HIPAA Administrative Simplification

Title III: HIPAA Tax-Related Health Provisions

Title IV: Application and Enforcement of Group Health Plan Requirements

Title V: Revenue Offsets

But, while HIPAA dictates security and privacy rules, it does not specify exact record retention periods for documents other than policies and documentation regarding compliance efforts. Medical record retention is governed at the state level.

General Record Retention Guidelines

While each state has different requirements for how long healthcare practitioners should keep certain records, there are federal guidelines that can be found in the Federal Register.

At your organization, you must create and document a record retention schedule and set up your record management procedures to streamline retention and quick disposal efforts.

Here is a general record retention table to help you get started:

Health Information

Recommended Retention Period

Diagnostic Images (x-ray films, etc) (adults) 5 years
Diagnostic Images (x-ray films, etc) (minors) 5 years after the age of majority
Disease Index 10 years
Master Patient/Person Index Permanently
Operative Index 10 years
Patient Health/Medical Records (adults) 10 years after the most recent encounter
Patient Health/Medical Records (minors) Age of majority plus statute of limitations
Physician Index 10 years
Register of Births/Deaths Permanently
Register of Surgical Procedures Permanently

As you can see, record retention periods differ according to the type of information contained in the document and whether the document regards an adult or a minor.

Record Retention ScheduleThe above chart does not cover every record type, but you can use it to help guide you in the right direction. As you create your own record retention schedule it helps to be as specific as possible so that employees never have to guess about when to dispose of a record.

As far as storing your records up until it’s time to dispose of them, organize your files so they are quick to locate, but also so they are grouped with other documents that expire at the same time. This will help with efficient disposal.

What to Do With Expired Medical Records

To maintain a high level of security, documents passed their set retention period should be destroyed as soon as possible.

At large organizations this can be tricky. When establishing document management procedures, be sure to include guidelines on proper disposal, and make it as easy as possible for employees to destroy expired records.

Most healthcare organizations choose document shredding as an efficient and reliable means of document destruction.

Smaller operations might be able to handle document shredding on their own, but as you grow and acquire more patients, document shredding services help streamline the shredding process.

Shred Expired Medical Records

Shredding services are highly customizable, with programs allowing you to witness the shredding or save costs by sending the paperwork to an offsite facility. You can even pre-schedule ongoing shredding services and simply have a shredder stop by as often as you need to shred files you place in shred bins around your office.

Shredding medical records as soon as they expire is an important step in the record retention process that should not be neglected. Find the right shredding service provider to ensure this step in the process is done right.

Protect Your Medical Records. Partner With a Local Shredding Professional.

Shred Nations has a nationwide network of reliable document shredding partners who comply with HIPAA as well as all state and local information security laws.

Get matched with a shredding provider near you who can handle your exact shredding needs. Call us today at (800) 747-3365 or fill out the form on the right and we’ll get you several free quotes from dependable shredders in your area.

We look forward to helping you keep your patient’s information safe and secure.