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What Should Happen to Medical Records when Physicians Leave Practice?

By Angela Boateng

​​I don’t know about you, but I am totally amazed at how fast this year has gone by! In a blink of an eye, here we are, approaching the last third of the summer.

As we reluctantly are pulled through the summer months, we are forced to recognize a very important annual event: BACK TO SCHOOL! Most parents are feeling elated! Reflecting on my own childhood, I would imagine that most kids, however, do not share in their parent’s joy.

Despite the differing opinions about the celebratory nature of the occasion, all are getting prepared.

In preparation for this occasion, some parents and custodians will need to make sure that their child’s immunizations meet state requirements for school attendance and will need access to medical records to do so. As a result, a handful will discover that their child’s physician has passed away, retired, or is no longer practicing in the state.

Throughout the year, we regularly get calls from former patients and distraught parents in search of their medical records. Here’s a brief overview of what we’ve shared with former patients in search of their medical records.

Who has ownership of the medical records? 

The hospital, solo or group practice has ownership of patient medical records. The rights of a physician departing a practice will depend on the arrangements. Patients do not own their medical records, however, copies of the medical records should be provided upon a patient’s request. 

How long are physicians required to keep the medical records?  

State Board of Medicine regulations say this is at least seven years from the last date of service for adults, and at least seven years from the last date of service and one year after the patient turns 18, whichever is longer, for minors. Regulations for osteopathic physicians are almost identical, except that the extended period of time for minors is two years after the patient turns 18. 

When a physician retires or is no longer with a practice, what happens to her patients’ medical records?

  • Patients should be notified when a physician is leaving a practice, is retiring, or has passed away. Generally, it is good practice for the physician to send a letter to her patients to notify them of his/her impending departure. If the physician has passed away, his/her estate may also consider placing a notice in the newspaper to inform patients how they can access their medical records. 
  • If the physician was part of a group practice, the group may retain the records. Upon the patient’s request, the group should provide the patient with a copy or transfer a copy to the patient’s new physician. Medical records that are not forwarded to a new physician should be retained by the group practice. 
  • If the physician was a solo practitioner, arrangements may have been made for another practice to take over the care of her patients. Preparations may also have been made for a local hospital to store the medical records. Patients of solo practitioners no longer in practice are often encouraged to inquire with area practices and hospitals when in search of lost medical records. 

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