Properly Destroying/Disposing of Medical and Healthcare Records in Colorado

Anyone who has ever walked into a doctor's office, dental office, or other healthcare facility has noticed the voluminous manila files that line the walls of the administrative work area. While electronic medical records are quickly becoming the norm, old records are still maintained in paper format. In addition, even with electronic medical records there are still some records that need to be in a paper format.

Maintaining these medical records over the long term may be a practical inconvenience to medical, dental and other healthcare offices, but there are specific requirements relating to this issue. After a the specified period of time, a provider or practice may properly dispose of or destroy patient records, but special care must be taken when destroying patient records to ensure that you are in compliance with HIPAA and Colorado State law.

While the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does protect patients' medical record privacy, it defers to the individual states on the matters of records retention and destruction. HIPAA does, however, place the burden of safeguarding their patients' medical records on the healthcare provider.

How long does Colorado require physicians to maintain medical records?

The State of Colorado requires healthcare providers to make medical records available to their patients regardless of whether or not the individual is active or current on his or her bills. HIPAA contains similar requirements. Naturally, hospitals, doctors' offices such as medical practices, dental practices, and other healthcare facilities must be cautious about destroying any records that may later be requested or needed by a patient. The Colorado Medical Board recommends "retaining all patient records for a minimum of 7 years after the last date of treatment, or 7 years after the patient reaches age 18 – whichever occurs later." However, some types of records, like x-rays, must be retained for ten years. If you are in doubt as to the length of time you should hold a record, consult a Colorado healthcare attorney before submitting it for destruction.

In what manner should medical records be destroyed?

Neither the State of Colorado nor the Federal government specifically outlines a process for destroying medical records. However, it is clear that medical records must be destroyed in a manner that protects the patients' privacy. With this in mind, it is recommended that medical doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers utilize the following guidelines:

  • Destroy records on the premises (as opposed to sending them off site for shredding or incineration)
  • Use the same method of destruction each time.
  • Maintain a written log to document the files that are being destroyed.
  • If practical, notify patients in advance of the destruction of their files. Allow time for them to request a copy.
  • Utilize permanent, in-house employees to accomplish the destruction.
  • Assign two employees to the task. This supplies a witness to the destruction. Have both employees sign an acknowledgment that they oversaw the records' destruction.

When it comes to the retention, dissemination, and destruction of medical information, it's always best to err on the side of caution. If you have any doubts as to whether or not you should release or destroy a record, you should refrain from doing either until you've talked to an experienced Colorado attorney who practices healthcare law.

The above information is not intended as legal advice and is provided merely as general information and should not be relied upon as specific legal advice for your situation. Before taking any action you should contact an experienced Colorado healthcare attorney such as Philip M. Bluestein. Mr. Bluestein can be contacted directly via e-mail (pmblue@bluesteinlaw.com) or telephone at (720) 204-5480.