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Medical records in hospital, nursing home and office settings should be retained and considered active so long as the patient is still being cared for by the facility.
If the patient has been discharged from the facility, or transferred to another doctor’s office, then the usual time frame for medical record retention is 5 years.
If the patient dies, records should be retained for two years.
Medicare (Health and Human Services) generally requires retention for 5 years. Medicaid requirements vary by state. The reference gives links for rules for States, HIPAA and Medicare.
The average retention requirement for most states is 6 years. This includes child records, although some institutions have a policy of retaining the records until the child attains the age of 21 years.
When medical records are destroyed they must be done so in a manner to preserve patient confidentiality. This in essence means that they should be shredded. Old medical records should never be placed in the trash or dumpsters.
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