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How Long to Retain Charts

Article

How long do we need to keep medical charts?

Question: How long do we need to keep medical charts?

Answer: Federal and state statutes and regulations as well as risk-management and ethical concerns determine the amount of time to retain patient records. Patient records are the written proof of your medical care and, thus, the best defense in any malpractice or other legal or administrative actions filed against you or your practice.

At a minimum, store patient records for the duration of your state’s statute of limitations. (Your state medical board should be able to help.)

If your state extends the statute of limitations for minors and persons who are incompetent, then you may need to permanently retain those records. Also, determine whether or not your state follows the “discovery rule” for filing malpractice cases. In states that follow this rule, the statute of limitations for plaintiffs to take action begins when they knew or should have known of the alleged malpractice. That rule extends even further the length of time that you must retain patient records.

Hang onto any records related to legal actions in which you have been named as a defendant or in which you think you may be called as a witness. Keep those records until the conclusion of the case and all applicable appeals have been exhausted.

Don’t overlook other legal obligations regarding patient record retention. Medicare records must be maintained for a minimum of four years. Depending on the type of patient, Medicare may require an even longer retention period. Review your applicable third-party payer agreements to see what your contractual obligations are to maintain records of their insured patients.

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