Medical records are technically owned by the physician, or treating facility, so they are responsible for the safe storage of those records, right? Right! As a patient, you are allowed to request a copy of your medical records at any time. In some cases, the medical records requested may be dated and you might even wonder if the records are still on file. The length of time required for a facility to hold onto your medical records varies by state. To find out exactly how long a doctor determines to keep a medical chart, read on below.
Does HIPAA Have A Say?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the HIPAA Privacy Rule has no requirements on medical record retention at a doctor's office. How long a doctor is required to keep a chart is based on what each state's legislation decides. So, Tennessee's medical record retention rules may completely differ from Georgia's, and so forth.
While the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not determine how long a chart must be kept at a doctor's office, it does; however, require that any covered entities apply all safety guidelines necessary to protect the privacy of all patients, for as long as their medical information is being stored at a particular facility.
The Answer Lies With The State
Along with rules for medical record copying fees, each state has their own laws in place to determine how long medical records must be kept by a facility. Regulations vary and are subject to change. Here are some examples:
By law, most healthcare providers must keep records for no less than 10 years after a patient's last visit. If the patient is a minor, doctors must keep records for at least 10 years after the final office visit or until the child is 19 years old, whichever is longer. Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-305
Physician practices are required to keep records at least 10 years from the date that the records were created. Ga. Code Ann. § 31-33- 2(a)(1)(A) and (B)(i)
Records stored in a hospital for a patient over the age of majority (18 years old in Georgia) are to be kept for at least 5 years after the discharge date from the facility. If the patient is under 18, records are to be stored 5 years past the age of majority (23 years old, in this case). Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 290- 9-7-18
While there is no specific law for record retention at physician practices, hospitals are required to keep an adult patient's records for no less than 5 years after the visit date. For patients under the age of 18, records are to be retained by the hospital for 5 years or until the patient is the age of majority plus 3 years (21 years old), whichever date is later. 902 Ky. Admin. Regs. 20:016 11.2
To learn more about the retention laws in your own state,
check out HealthIT.gov's informative chart here.