What You Need To Know About Medical Records Laws

electronic medical record scanningAsk anyone in the healthcare field and they’ll tell you the same thing: The laws governing medical records are a complex web of rules and regulations that can take a wizard to unravel. For those who don’t know the law, this makes operating an office that deals in medicine, medical records and/or providing healthcare not unlike driving a road littered with hazards. The same holds true for individuals. There are guidelines and laws that dictate what access we have to our medical records, who else can view them other than us, and more, but making heads or tails of those laws can be confusing.

This article aims to clear up some of that confusion.

Must Medical Records Be Kept On File?

Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, doctors and hospitals are required to keep your medical records, but they are not obliged to keep them in perpetuity. Some medical offices do so anyway, especially those that have switched to medical record scanning so all files are digital, but this is not required.

The New York State Department of Health, for instance, indicates that “physicians and hospitals are required by state law to maintain patient records for at least six years from the date of the patient's last visit.”

For medical offices, switching to a paperless office system is a way to streamline data storage and retrieval. This also means that for private citizens, maintaining your own medical records at home is a good idea. To make things easier on you, it’s recommended you follow the lead of professionals and use document scanning to digitize your essential medical paperwork.

Who Has A Right To View Medical Records?

Patients do have a right to view their medical records. Under HIPAA, patients have the right to request all their medical records, including originals (if available), with just a few exceptions:

  • Note from psychotherapy sessions
  • Substance abuse records
  • Information a provider has compiled for use in a lawsuit
  • Information given to the provider with the understanding that it would be confidential
  • Information a medical practitioner believes may endanger your life

For medical professionals, these regulations mean having a good system to keep and maintain patient records is vital – especially since under the law, you must deliver the requested documents within 30 days. Older offices may still rely on filing cabinets and binders, but medical practices that have modernized usually utilize medical record scanning (sometimes contracted to a third party) to make record storage and retrieval more efficient. Experts in the field consider this move one of the best money-saving office tips.

Also, practitioners should keep in mind that while under federal law you are given 30 days to provide those records, some states have even more stringent requirements. Some states require you to deliver those records in as few as five days, making the kind of efficiency that comes from a paperless office all but essential in order to comply with HIPAA requirements.

How Does Someone Request Their Records?

A request for medical records must be made in writing. Medical practices are permitted to charge a per-page fee for paper copies of any requested records. This fee applies to the physical documents only; practices are not permitted to charge a search and retrieval fee.

For more information, visit http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/.