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Contributing Writer · Apr 27, 2009

Medical Records Data Retention and EHRs

How long should medical records be retained, whether on paper or electronically? Does keeping records indefinitely increase one’s exposure to liability? These questions have occasionally arisen, and deserve commentary.

The most important reason for keeping medical records is for coordination of care with other health professionals. It is also an important way of documenting care when defending against malpractice allegations – sometimes, malpractice allegations can be quite incomplete in their presentation of facts, and a well-documented medical record is the best defense a physician has against such claims.

There are minimum time frames which obligate a physician to retain records – seven years for adults in most instances is common, though other circumstances may require longer retention. The main driver here is the statute of limitations for filing malpractice actions. Even if there is record-keeping older than the statute of limitations, it is not open to subpoena if it is past the statue of limitations. The California Medical Association has concluded that, while a retention period of at least 10 years may be sufficient, it recommends that records be retained indefinitely, or, in the alternative, for 25 years. Here’s a good summary by a malpractice insurance carrier.

Like with most EHRs, Practice Fusion is able to keep electronic health record data indefinitely, in electronic form. This does eliminate the economic burden of maintaining old records for long periods of time. Having good longitudinal medical records data not only serves continuity of care, it provides long-term defense for physicians against malpractice allegations.

Robert Rowley, MD

Chief Medical Officer

Practice Fusion, Inc.