Corporate Compliance

E-mail retention issues

Compliance Monitor, December 21, 2005

A lot of organizations are addressing e-mail retention now because of the documentation that HIPAA requires, but it's not necessarily a HIPAA requirement, says Judy Thompson, PhD, CPHRM, director of quality assurance, risk management, and human resources at Cedar River Clinics in Seattle, WA. "The content drives retention, not the format."

If you're just e-mailing to consult with another physician on an anonymous patient's care, it's not necessary to keep the e-mail because you're not identifying the patient, says Margret Amatayakul RHIA, CHPS, FHIMSS, president of Margret\A Consulting, LLC in Schaumburg, IL. . "It's just like a phone conversation. But if it's just a curbside consultation, you have to be careful not to identify the patient."

It gets tricky when you're e-mailing patients or another provider, she says. E-mailing information on subjects like lab results are part of the patient's clinical documentation, so the statute of limitations for the particular state applies. You might print out an e-mail and stick it in the patient's record, says Amatayakul.

This tip is an excerpt from Strategies for Health Care Compliance.

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