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Destroying Records

Records may be destroyed only in limited circumstances. The clearest is when the patient dies. A reasonable period of time after the patient's death--perhaps the statute of limitations for medical malpractice in the state--the chart may be destroyed. It is always recommended that the family of a deceased patient be given a chance to request a copy of the chart before it is destroyed because it may provide invaluable medical information for other family members.

If a physician dies and his or her records are not transferred to another physician, these records may be destroyed a reasonable time after the physician's death. The executor of the physician's estate should attempt to contact all patients before destroying the records. All patients should be sent a certified letter at the time of the physician's death notifying them that the physician has died and that they may claim their medical records within a set time, say, three months. Once the time for claiming records has elapsed, the executor may begin to destroy the records of patients who have not been seen for several years. The records of current patients should be maintained for several years before being destroyed. If possible, these records should be transferred to a local physician or hospital.


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