First I counted the years, then the months, then the days: What a relief to dispose of the last box of paper patient records, allowing me to get rid of one file cabinet in my garage and free up space in another. Three years had passed since my last contact with a patient, which meant that I no longer would need the records to defend myself in a malpractice suit.
Patients have rarely requested records, and the state sets limits on what a physician can charge for finding and providing the records.
Physicians who work for clinics or hospitals do not have to deal with this. Only private practice physicians must keep records after closing their practices. If they do not want to store the paper at home, they can scan the records to digital files or transfer them to a business that will store and copy the records for fee.
Getting rid of the records results in less worry for both physician and patient that personal information will fall into the wrong hands. Psychiatric and addiction treatment records can contain especially damaging information.
What happens if the patient wants a copy of their record after I have destroyed the paper? For the past several years I have kept patient records with a cloud-based service, Practice Fusion. Ideally, Practice Fusion and other such companies should release records directly to the patient, leaving the physician out of the loop.
Before Practice Fusion I kept digital records on hard drives and optical disks, which I still have locked up, but which take up much less space than paper records. I may keep these indefinitely -- or until I move.
Berry Edwards, MD