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Protecting Records

Medical records are the basic tangible assets of a private practice. If these records are lost through fire or theft, the medical care of many patients may suffer. If a physician's office records were to be lost, it could be difficult to defend a claim brought by a patient who had been treated by the physician. As with any other business, the physician will also face potential financial ruin from the loss of customer lists and billing records. Unlike many other businesses, however, physicians rarely use specific techniques for protecting their business records.

Paper records should be stored in fire-resistant filing cabinets that are locked whenever the office is closed to provide some protection from fire and theft. Computer records should be copied (backed up) to removable media, either disks or tape, daily, with at least two sets of backup media. This practice ensures that one set will be preserved if a mistake is made in the backup process. These sets are alternated, with one being used on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the other on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It is better to have a set of backup media for each working day. Most businesses keep at least one set of backup media in a different building from the computer. A duplicated backup is made on this remote set at least once a week to prevent a complete loss of information if the building is destroyed.

If the physician's office is destroyed, the first step is to contact all of the physician's patients, for two reasons: to remind patients in need of continuing care that they must contact the new office for an appointment and to reassure patients that the physician will reopen the office and that they need not seek medical care elsewhere. Contacting the patients will be much easier if the physician maintains a patient list in a secure place away from the office in which the records are kept. This list should contain enough information to locate patients and, ideally, to reconstruct a skeleton of the patient's medical history. Keeping such a list is time-consuming, but it can be an effective marketing tool. A physician can use routine mailings to established patients to build loyalty. Mailings directed at patients with chronic conditions can be used to remind them to come in for follow-up care. This is good business and good medical management.


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