Although the laws vary from area to area, in most cases, if you are a healthcare provider, you must keep copies of your patients' medical records until they turn 25 or for at least seven years after the date of their last appointment with you. If you don't have a lot of room in your facility, you may need to find commercial storage. Here are some tips to help you safely store your office's medical records:
1. Work with a climate controlled storage facility.
Before placing any of your clinic's medical records in storage, you need to find a suitable facility. Ideally, it needs to be climate controlled, and preferably, you should be able to adjust the humidity and temperature levels in your unit independently. The facility also needs to have security in place so that no one can access the records without your permission.
2. Transfer hard copies to more stable formats.
Even in an optimal environment, some items are more prone to breaking down and decaying than other objects. To protect the integrity of your medical records, consider transferring them to a more stable source. In particular, if you have paper records printed on inexpensive paper, copy them onto acid-free archival quality paper. That paper resists yellowing and aging, allowing you to store it longer without damage.
Similarly, if you have very old x-rays that you are saving for a special patient, consider transferring those vulnerable old items to polyester film to help stabilize it.
3. Keep x-rays cool and individually wrapped.
In addition to creating better quality records to store, your x-rays need a bit of attention in particular. Ideally, x-rays on polyester film should be individually encased in a lignin-free paper envelope or a plastic sleeve. The temperature in the facility should be no higher than 25 degrees Celsius, and the relative humidity should be between 20 and 50 percent.
4. Keep temperatures warm enough for electronic records.
X-rays need to be stored in cool temps, and paper can be stored in any temp. Computers, servers, thumb drivers and other electronics, however, cannot be in too cold of a storage space. That means you need to balance the temps between what your x-rays and electronics need, but luckily, that's simple, as electronics can survive in temps just over freezing, giving you a fairly large window between freezing and 25 Celsius to safely store both electronics and x-rays.
Also, make sure that you dust any electronic storage devices before putting them in storage. Otherwise, the dust may clog fans and coat circuit boards, potentially causing the equipment to quit working. If you have electronic records, back them up on a cloud-based storage system or on digital equipment stored at another facility.
5. Store paper records in a ventilated storage container.
Keeping the humidity relatively low for x-rays also benefits your paper records because it protects them from condensation. To further keep moisture away from papers, make sure that you store them in a well ventilated storage container. For example, a filing cabinet that allows air to easily circulate through the drawers is better than an airtight plastic storage box that might harbour condensation and let your paper records get wet.
6. Invest in shelves for other storage items.
Finally, if you have any other records such as fetal strips that don't fit easily into filing cabinets, you need to make a plan for other storage solutions. Ideally, to keep your storage locker tidy, you should invest in shelves or other storage solutions. In some cases, commercial storage facilities may have these items available for you to use or buy.