It’s Not an Anytime Decision
In a time when identity theft is a constant threat, society has adopted a number of protective measures, including shredding medical records. Most people are aware of the benefits of shredding documents. Many businesses toss records into commercial shred boxes as soon as work is completed. By having a secure document bins makes it easy for employees to keeping sensitive papers from piling up in open spaces like desks, conference areas, and other workstations where paper is processed.
Medical records are full of the same risks — a single page in a medical record could include a patient’s name, date of birth, and social security number. That’s all a scammer needs to begin the process of medical identity theft. Due to federal and state laws plus other regulations, providers can’t simply dump medical records in a shred box because the patient is deceased or has moved to another provider.
Retention Guidelines of Medical Records
According to physician Jonathan Bertman in a Physician’s Money Digest article, California law requires providers to keep records for 25 years following the last patient visit. California retention guidelines trump federal guidelines, because they are longer than the 7 to 10 years required by federal agencies. Reasons for retaining records so long after a patient is seen include:
- Creating documentation of a patient’s medical history for use by future providers to the patient.
- Creating audit trails for regulatory purposes.
- Protecting providers against legal action.
Risks of Not Shredding Medical Records
In some cases, providers are opting to keep records forever for legal and other reasons. Sometimes, the provider may scan paper documents once originals are no longer required and keep the records electronically. Regardless of how the records are kept, some experts worry that infinite retention is opening doors for identity theft. Physicians who keep records beyond guidelines should be diligent in protecting patient information. They should also be consistent on decision making regarding which records to keep, as inconsistencies could raise suspicion of wrongdoing.