How Long Should You Keep Medical Records in the USA?

Not sure how long to keep medical records for? The minimum length of time for keeping your patients’ medical records varies state-by-state and, in certain states, your type of medical practice.

In this article, we’ll give you an idea of what to expect in terms of how long you should retain medical records according to both federal law and state law. You’ll also get tips on managing your patient records more efficiently.

How Long are Medical Records Kept? It Depends.

In terms of state laws, there is no single rule.

Rather, you can expect a minimum medical record retention period of 5 years from the date your hospital discharged the patient, and a maximum of 10 years.

However, in some situations, you can expect an even longer retention period. If you treated a minor, then you may need to keep their records until they reach the age of majority in that state, or longer. As an example, in Hawaii, you must keep a minor’s full records until they reach 25 — so, if you had treated them at 13, that would be 12 years.

Finally, medical doctors can generally keep their patients’ records for a shorter period of time than hospitals. So, for example in Connecticut, medical doctors need only keep records for 7 years following the last date of treatment, while hospitals must retain the records for 10 years after discharging the patient.

You can find the minimum medical retention period for your state and practice type on the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information’s website.

The Challenge of Keeping Medical Records

A Collection of Medical Records
Source: DepositPhotos

For hospitals and clinics alike, these minimum retention periods present a challenge.

In clinics/hospitals using paper records, patient files take a considerable amount of space. Moreover, these records are also at risk of loss as a result of disasters (such as fires). Paper records are also vulnerable to unauthorized viewing and theft.

Finally, even if you could keep those records safe from disaster, the fact is, ink and paper will degrade over the long-term. In states requiring you to keep medical records for more than 10 years, you might lose your records to age before that period expires.

Use These Tips to Optimize Your Patient Record System:

How EMR/EHRs Help

With electronic medical record (EMR)/electronic health record (EHR) systems, you can easily keep your patients’ medical records for as long as necessary.

However, besides longevity, you also get other benefits through EMR/EHR. For example, if you set-up templates and standardize how you collect and organize information, you’ll save time in understanding the patient’s health history.

You can use your time savings to spend more time engaging with your patient and, potentially, see more patients per day. These outcomes contribute to higher patient satisfaction.

Similarly, you can also improve the delivery of health services at your clinic or hospital. By just standardizing how you input and organize patient information, you would make it much easier for other departments or specialists to understand the patient.



Key EHR/EMR Best Practices to Remember

However, to leverage the benefits of EHR/EMR, you need to ensure that your EHR/EMR loads quickly and, as importantly, remains stable (or free of crashes).

The challenge with EHR/EMR is that the underlying software platform is resource-intensive. So, if you’re deploying it on-premise with limited (or aging) server infrastructure, it will get slow.

Likewise, if you’re maintaining EHR/EMRs on-premise, then you’ll also have to devote a lot of your resources towards cyber security and compliance. Both obligations are evolving realities, so keeping up will be a time-consuming and costly uphill battle.

To solve both challenges, you can look at migrating your EHR/EMR to the cloud. Doing so will free you of worrying about expanding and maintaining server infrastructure.

Instead, you only pay for the server capacity you need (which costs less than procuring as well as maintaining and securing your own servers).

A doctor accessing medical record files in the Cloud electronically
Source: DepositPhotos

When it comes to the cloud, the two most important things you need to keep in mind are:

  1. Ensuring that you have around-the-clock access to your data.
  2. Maintaining HIPAA and HITRUST compliance.

You can achieve both by working with a provider with proven experience in healthcare IT.

Such providers will ensure 100% compliance with HIPAA and HITRUST and, in the process, protect your data against evolving cyber threats. After all, to achieve HIPAA/HITRUST, you’ll need to meet or exceed cyber healthcare security best practices.

Healthcare IT providers will also provide you with special infrastructure suited for hospitals. This can include high-priority connectivity using the internet as well as private network connections in case of internet downtime.


Finally, the back-end infrastructure is only one part of maintaining fast and stable EHR/EMR. You must also properly configure it, e.g., provision templates for each of your treatments/visit types, integrate the healthcare platform to your devices, etc.

Otherwise, you won’t extract as much value out of your EHR/EMR. Instead, you’ll have a costly expensive with questionable utility, which shouldn’t be the case.

Deliver positive, life-changing care to your patients and boost patient satisfaction rates by configuring and optimizing your EHR/EMR systems. Contact us today to get started.

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