How Long Can Organizations Like Record Grabber Keep Medical Records?
How long Record Grabber, or any organization concerned with sharing, storing and protecting patient medical records may keep such files, is not as simple as one might think. There are legal requirements of a minimum amount of time, but there is no maximum amount of time for storage, and there are benefits and drawbacks for keeping them longer.
HIPAA does not specify how long organizations should keep records beyond the minimum, it does state that new and old records are treated with the same safeguarding provisions.
What is the Legal Requirement?
Record Grabber is legally bound to keep records under the following conditions pertaining to diagnosis, treatment and after-care:
- Seven years from the date of the record of last treatment if the patient is still alive
- Three years after the death of the patient
- For minors, when the patient reaches the age of 21, or after seven years, depending on which occurs first
- Hospitals are obliged to keep records for 25 years following treatment but as we are a Record Service, we are not bound by this
Seven years is a good rule of thumb and many providers will destroy records when that legally required time is up. There are some exceptions though. ECGs and EEGs may be discarded prior to the seven years stated above if there is no change between the most recent and the previous record. PKUs and lab reports must be kept for no less than five years; x-rays and other images may be discarded after just three years.
Advantages to Keeping Records Longer Than Minimum
Keeping records for more than the obligatory seven years can help maintain record integrity and the “full picture” of a person’s diagnosis, treatment, insurance or legal proceedings. Sometimes, conditions and treatments are related and having all information available can help a legal case or course of treatment run smoother.
Disadvantages to Keeping Records Longer Than Minimum
The first issue is one of security. The longer a record is kept – digital or paper – the longer there is a security risk to those records. The second issue is one of space. Paper records take up a lot of space and will require larger warehouses over time. For digital records, back-ups can take longer and will take up much more space on the network drive; this is also for records that are highly unlikely to be required after so long.
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