Home What kind of medical information can clinics store?

What kind of medical information can clinics store?

doctor visit
(© Syda Productions – stock.adobe.com)

When it comes to medical information, most people like to keep things private. After all, your health is one of the most personal aspects of your life — why share it with the world? However, you don’t have much choice but to share your medical history with your doctor. The vast majority of doctor’s offices, clinics, and hospitals store this information for an extended period of time, which begs a few important questions.

First and foremost, what kind of medical information can clinics store? How long can they store them? Are clinics regulated at the local, state, or federal level? Finally, how can you request your information from a clinic? We will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the laws that govern the use of medical information.

Who regulates medical information?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the standard set of guidelines established by the federal government. Established in 1996, HIPAA regulates how medical facilities collect, store, and share medical information. Most importantly, medical facilities are prohibited from sharing your medical information without your written consent.

However, some states have specific laws that expand on the restrictions set through HIPAA. For example, the state of Virginia has dozens of laws related to medical information. Generally speaking, these laws do not deviate substantially from HIPAA. Nonetheless, all medical practitioners in Virginia must abide by all state and federal guidelines.

How long can clinics store medical information?

Federal law dictates that clinics must hold medical records for a minimum of seven years. This timeline starts from the day that the medical record was created. Once seven years have passed, a clinic is free to destroy the records. They do not need to contact a patient before destroying a medical record. In some states, this timeline is extended, which means that the exact length of time can vary based on your location.

There are some common databases that clinics use to store medical information, including electronic health records (EHR). That said, clinics can also make use of scribe services to ensure that documents are created and stored securely. For example, many private and public clinics use Provider’s Choice Scribe Services to acquire both in-person and virtual scribes.

How can I request medical records?

Clinics are legally required to allow patients to view, get a copy, and even make revisions to medical records. Generally, parents or legal guardians can request medical records on the behalf of a child. However, in most cases, people can only request information related to their own medical records.

To request a medical record, you can often just contact the clinic from which you received care and request a copy of the medical record. You will need to confirm your identity and pick up the record in person. HIPAA guidelines require clinics to provide medical records within 30 days of the request. In most cases, you can expect your records to be ready within a few business days. Even if you have not paid for the services yet, the healthcare provider must provide you with a copy of your records.



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.