How Long Should You Keep Medical Records?
September 28, 2022
When it comes to medical record storage, you should keep certain paperwork on hand for up to 11 years (or, in the case of minors’ records, possibly longer). However, the rules can vary, depending on factors like which state you’re in and what type of medical practice you run. (This table features a handy overview for reference.)
So, today, we’re going to dive deep into medical record storage, answering the following questions:
- Why should you keep medical records?
- How long should you keep medical records?
- What are the risks and challenges of storing medical records?
- What is the safest and most efficient way to store medical records?
Why should you keep medical records?It's important to keep medical records for purposes like communicating with patients, tracking patient progress, medical or legal reasons, contributing to industry stats, or for analysis, learning, and planning. No matter the purpose, you’ll always want to maintain the necessary records for your specific practice.
Healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and imaging/radiology centers should retain medical records for all of the reasons listed above, along with others, like:
- Coordinating more efficient care
- Sharing info with patients and other healthcare providers
- Contributing to diagnoses and delivering safer healthcare
- Streamlining coding/billing for insurance purposes
For patientsBy now, you should be able to appreciate that medical record storage is important for healthcare facilities. However, medical records are just as important for patients, too.
- monitor chronic conditions
- adhere to treatment plans
- find and fix errors in their health records
- track progress in wellness or disease management programs
- directly contribute their information to research
How long do you have to keep medical records?For example, in Florida, regulations state that, “A licensed physician shall keep adequate written medical records, as required by Section 458.331(1)(m), Florida Statutes, for a period of at least five years from the last patient contact; however, medical malpractice law requires records to be kept for at least seven .”
And when it comes to HIPAA, a patient authorization for the disclosure of PHI is, “subject to HIPAA retention laws, which means it must be retained for six years. However, if the document is part of the patient’s medical record, it is subject to the state’s medical record retention requirements – which could be longer.”
Source: HIPAA Journal
But, as we discussed, each state has its own rules in place. Here are some highlights from the table we linked to:
- In Alabama, medical doctors must keep medical records for, “As long as may be necessary to treat the patient and for medical legal purposes.”
- In the District of Columbia, medical doctors must keep medical records for minors, “3 years after last seeing the patient or 3 years after patient reaches the age of 18 (i.e., until patient turns 21).”
- In Hawaii, the regulations are much stricter. Full medical records must be kept for, “7 years after last data entry. Basic information (i.e., patient’s name, birth date, diagnoses, drugs prescribed, x-ray interpretations): 25 years after the last record entry.”
- In Montana, hospitals must keep the “…entire medical record—10 years following the date of a patient’s discharge or death.”
- In North Carolina, hospitals must keep minor patients’ health records, “Until the patient’s 30th birthday.”
As we touched on, it really depends on what type of healthcare facility
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What are the risks and challenges of storing medical records?
Now that we’ve established why it’s important to store medical records and some general guidelines for how long to store them, let’s discuss the risks and challenges of maintaining medical records.
When it comes to the issues that medical doctors and facilities face when storing medical records, the most common are related to storage, access, safety, and security. Facilities that primarily use manual record-keeping systems often experience storage problems.
As mentioned in the above-cited article, the risks and challenges of storing medical records include
- Disasters like fires, floods, development of mold, etc.
- Security threats like theft or hackers
- The cost of paper-based storage
- Difficulty adhering to compliance standards when paper-based
How to maintain medical recordsNow, you’re probably wondering how you actually go about maintaining your medical records. In essence, it comes down to two different avenues: traditional methods vs. EMR (Electronic Medical Records).
The traditional methods primarily involve paper record-keeping. This is how many medical providers traditionally think of storage when it comes to their patient’s health information and documentation. With this option, there’s a lot of printing, photocopying, filing, and faxing – a slow and arduous process.
But with EMR, doctors and medical facilities can keep important records electronically. As summarized by HealthIT.gov, EMR can help improve patient health with less paperwork, easy (electronic) access to medical records, better care coordination, faster and more accurate prescriptions, fewer unnecessary tests/procedures, and generally better control over their health.
Keeping electronic health records is attractive to medical providers for a number of reasons, like wanting:
- Efficiency, time savings, speed
- More organized, automated, and streamlined options
- Secure, compliant options
- Integration with billing systems
- A system that can grow and expand with their practices
For healthcare facilitiesFor healthcare facilities, with electronic medical record (EMR)/electronic health record (EHR) systems, you can easily keep your patients’ medical records for as long as necessary.
And, when using OmegaAI Imaging EMR, you can reap many other benefits, like:
- Regulatory compliance
- Cost savings
- Improved efficiency and productivity
- Accuracy and accessibility
For patientsDid you know that 2/3 people would consider switching to a physician who offers access to medical records through a secure Internet connection? The message from patients is clear: they want access and control over their medical records, and they want it yesterday.
And, even if you’re a doctor or medical facility owner, we’re all also patients. Put yourself in your patients’ shoes and try to appreciate where they’re coming from.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful as you seek to understand how long to keep medical records.
To summarize, there are differing guidelines and regulations when it comes to answering the question How long do doctors have to keep medical records? And there are many reasons to consider medical record storage, ranging from continuity of care to medico-legal purposes.
Access to such records is also important for both healthcare providers and patients alike. Various risks and challenges come along with the maintenance of such records, many of which can be solved through EMR or EHR.
Electronic medical records are also popular with patients, many of whom would switch to a provider offering access to their records over the Internet (securely).
And don’t forget that OmegaAI is the solution for the challenges medical providers face in the maintenance of medical records. Chat with our team to learn more.