Written By: Janie Ratliff-Sweeney

The time has come to close a chapter and move on from your medical practice. But closing down a physician’s office doesn’t just involve business concerns like notifying personnel or selling equipment. Doctors must also worry about the fate of their patient records.

If you are a Kentucky doctor closing your practice, be sure to notify patients and offer to send copies of their records to another physician of their own choosing. The Kentucky Medical Association recommends notifying patients 60 to 90 days before you close your practice.

For patients who do not opt to have their records sent to a successor physician, records should be retained for storage with a custodian, who may be another physician or a commercial service. An experienced attorney can draft a custodial agreement, which should include such details as:

  • the length of time records should be retained
  • a requirement that you and your patients may continue to access records
  • a requirement to notify the closing practice if the custodian’s contact information changes
  • any fees associated with record maintenance
  • compliance with state and federal regulations pertaining to patients’ records

How long records should be retained depends on several factors. According to American Medical Association ethics guidelines, physicians have an obligation to retain patient records “which may reasonably be of value to a patient.”

For practical reasons, records should be kept for at least as long as the limitations period for medical malpractice claims. Kentucky’s statute of repose says that a medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within five years of the date a negligent act or omission is said to have occurred.

Doctors participating in Medicare and in Kentucky’s Medicaid program must retain records for five years from the date of a patient’s discharge.

For patients who don‘t respond to the notification that your practice is closing, a second notice should be sent toward the end of the 90 days, informing them of the storage location of their records or, in the case of records older than five years, that the records will be destroyed.

Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is critical as well. HIPAA’s patient privacy protections apply to storage — and destruction — of records. For older records that need to be destroyed, consider contracting a records destruction service to properly destroy paper or other media (such as CDs and flash drives) to ensure patient data remains protected.

Laws and regulations in this area at the federal and state level can change. To protect yourself from liability when you close your practice, consult an attorney knowledgeable in Kentucky and HIPAA laws. At Hemmer DeFrank Wessels, PLLC, a skilled healthcare lawyer can help ensure that you’ve covered all the bases. Call us at [ln::phone] or contact us online.