Five Things You Need to Know About How Your Medical Records Are Stored

Going to the doctor’s office is a nerve-wracking experience for many. Not only is sitting in the office and getting an exam uncomfortable, many people also worry about their medical records.

It does bring a little peace of mind to know that all doctor’s offices must comply with HIPAA regulations that require them to keep your information safe, but without knowing exactly how they do that, you still might feel a bit uncomfortable every time you step foot in the office.

Here are five things you need to know about how your medical records are stored that will make you feel more confident knowing your private information is exactly that—private.

The Cloud

Some doctor’s offices still have paper documents that are carefully filed away, but most offices have been transitioning to electronic files for years, so the majority of your information is in the cloud.

That sounds scarier than it really is. Medical offices use a variety of software, like the software from Reciprocity, that helps them make sure they’re in compliance with how medical records must be stored. The software enables them to evaluate risks as well, which can help them predict how your information might be compromised so they can address the issue before it becomes a problem.

What Kind of Records Are Stored?

It is important to know what kind of records your doctors have in the office as well. As you might expect, anything pertaining to your health is stored.

That includes details from all of your appointments including:

  • Videos

  • X-ray films

  • ECGs

  • Fetal monitor strips

  • Photos

  • And more

However, that doesn’t mean every doctor has access to all of your medical records. Even if you have your records transferred, the doctor’s office will go through them, make copies of the relevant files, and return unwanted files to the previous office.

In addition, your doctor’s office will likely hang on to your insurance information, and they may hang on to billing information. It’s a good idea to ask, that way you can let them know if you’re uncomfortable letting them keep your credit card on file.

How Long Records Are Kept?

You know your doctors are hanging onto your records, but exactly how long do they keep your personal information? Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy question to answer.

Every state has different guidelines for how long medical records must be retained, and different kinds of records and different kinds of patients follow different rules.

For example, some states, like Alabama, have low requirements of just five years for hospital patients. Medical doctors don’t have any rules to follow at all. Records should only be retained for as long as is necessary.

Other states have stricter rules. Hawaii, for example, requires medical doctors to hang onto basic information for at least 25 years.

Different kinds of patients will likely be treated differently when it comes to how long records are kept. In general, the records of minors are retained for much longer than the records of adults. Even the doctors of deceased patients will retain records for at least a few years.

Transferring Medical Records

Transferring medical records can be extremely annoying. It usually involves letting your existing doctor know that you’ll be going elsewhere, which can be uncomfortable. Then, you have to depend on them to send your records to your new doctor in a timely manner. Even if doctors are collaborating, it can be difficult to get them to send your records like they should.

If you’re having trouble, it’s important to know that you have the right to obtain copies of your own medical records. If you’re struggling to get your records sent to another office, request copies of your files to be sent to your home. You may have to pay copy and postage fees, but at least you’ll know your new doctor will get them.

The Location of Your Medical Records

You know your medical records are stored in the cloud and/or in the doctor’s office, but is there anywhere else your records can be kept?

You never have to worry about your doctor taking your records out of the office. The only time they may be removed from the office is if they are required in a court of law. However, if your physical files are no longer current, they may be moved to a holding facility.

Knowing how doctors keep your medical information safe is more important than just knowing that they do. With this information, you can feel more comfortable leaving your personal info behind when you leave the doctor’s office.  

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