How to Properly Dispose of Patient Records
Whether you run a hospital, insurance agency, medical billing company, or another health care organization, you are subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This requires you to safeguard medical records to protect your patients’ privacy. When the time comes to discard patient records, you might be wondering about the approved disposal methods available to you. Shredding is one of the best options because it’s easy, convenient, time-saving, and completely secure.
How Long to Retain Medical Records
Medical record retention requirements vary by state. If you live in the DC area, here are the laws that apply to you:
- In Washington, DC, physicians must retain medical records for three years after last seeing the patient. Hospitals must retain medical records for 10 years after discharge.
- In Maryland, healthcare providers must retain medical records for five years after the record is made.
- In Virginia, physicians must retain medical records for six years. Hospitals must retain medical records for five years after discharge.
NOTE: Different rules apply for minor patients. If you’re unsure about the laws in your area, check with your attorney or legal advisor before shredding medical records.
Disposing of Patient Records Properly
Protecting your patients’ medical information doesn’t just mean storing documents safely on the premises—it also means disposing of them properly once they age beyond the retention schedule. Follow these tips to properly dispose of patient records.
Establish Patient Record Security Protocols
You should never throw patient documents in the regular trash because this is not considered a secure disposal method. If an unscrupulous individual decided to rummage through the dumpsters outside your facility, there would be no way to prevent documents from being obtained and exploited. You could be fined for discarding patient records in a dumpster if they contain patient names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, or any protected health information without first making the print indecipherable by shredding.
To prevent patient records from accidentally mixing with regular trash, establish rules to help ensure the proper disposal of sensitive documents. Here’s how:
- Label bins at each workstation, “For patient record disposal only—do not trash.”
- Monitor trash cans in waiting areas and restrooms where patients, unaware of the HIPAA rules, might throw away medical records.
- Shred documents regularly to keep your organization in compliance with HIPAA rules and help safeguard patient information.
- Randomly inspect work stations to make sure everyone is in compliance.
- Make sure all employees understand and comply with your patient record security protocols. You may want to provide formal training and require a signed acknowledgment from each employee verifying that they received this training.
Remember to Destroy Electronic Records, Too
You keep track of patient information with more than just paper documents. If you have sensitive files stored on hard drives, flash drives, CT scanners, EEG machines, X-rays, or other electronically generated storage devices, you must destroy this information before disposing of the hardware. Deleting files and reformatting hard drives isn’t enough. Total destruction via media and electronics shredding is the best way to ensure complete data security.
Partner with a Secure Document Shredding Company
Your health care organization has strict rules to follow, so you should partner with a company that provides HIPAA-approved safeguards for secure document shredding, including locked containers and on-site services. The company should also provide media and electronics shredding, so you can rely on a single provider for all the services you need. The right partnership also ensures you receive a Certificate of Destruction to comply with HIPAA and other privacy laws.
Medical Record Shredding in DC, MD & VA
To ensure your health care or medical facility is following state laws, you need to properly destroy patients’ medical files before disposing of them. With TrueShred, you never have to worry about confidential information being compromised. Whether you require regularly scheduled on-going medical shredding service featuring free TrueShred lockable bins and consoles or one-time shredding service, we have a customized solution for you. TrueShred provides medical shredding solutions you can trust! Contact us for a free medical record shredding estimate today!
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