Corporate Compliance

HIPAA Q&A: Maintenance of medical records after physician death

Compliance Monitor, January 25, 2012

Q: If a sole family practice physician suddenly dies, what should happen to the patients’ medical records? The practice was simply closed after the physician’s death. Do the records need to be stored, and, if so, by whom? Should patients be notified by mail? Can notices be posted in the local paper with expiration dates on when the records will be available? Can the records simply be shredded?

A: Patient records must be maintained for the minimum time period required by state law, even if the physician who created them retires or dies. In addition, the records must be accessible to patients and their personal representatives for as long as they are maintained.

The law in many states outlines specific requirements for handling patient records in the event of the provider’s retirement or death. If state law does not provide specific requirements for maintaining patient records, they should be kept for at least one year past the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit. In the event of a physician’s death, the executor of the estate must make arrangements for preserving the records of the physician’s practice. Patients should be notified by mail or through print media so they know how to obtain copies of their records.

Editor’s note: Mary D. Briant, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, originally answered this question in the February 2012 issue of the HCPro, Inc. newsletter, Briefings on HIPAA. Brandt is vice president of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX and a nationally recognized expert on patient privacy, information security, and regulatory compliance. Her publications provided some of the basis for HIPAA’s privacy regulations.

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