Pediatricians and other clinicians who provide care to children should have a documented patient health information retention and destruction policy that complies with existing state and federal law.

Records involved in any open investigation, audit or litigation must not be destroyed until the legal case has been closed.

Some states have additional requirements governing the destruction of patient health information. For instance, they may mandate that practices notify patients when destroying patient information

In the absence of any state law to the contrary, medical offices must ensure paper and electronic records are destroyed by a method that provides for no possibility that the protected health information can be reconstructed.

Common destruction methods are:

  • Burning, shredding, pulping, and pulverizing for paper records.
  • Pulverizing for microfilm or microfiche, laser discs, document imaging applications.  
  • Magnetic degaussing for computerized data.
  • Shredding or cutting for DVDs.
  • Demagnetizing magnetic tapes.

Medical offices should maintain documentation of the destruction of health records which include the following:

  • Date of destruction
  • Method of destruction
  • Description of the disposed records
  • Inclusive dates
  • A statement that the records were destroyed in the normal course of business
  • The signatures of the individuals supervising and witnessing the destruction

If destruction services are outsourced to a Business Associate, the contract must specify that the Business Associate will comply with relevant regulations such as creating documents describing the following:

  • The method of destruction or disposal
  • The time that will elapse between acquisition and destruction or disposal
  • Safeguards against breaches
  • Indemnification for the organization or provide for loss due to unauthorized disclosure
  • Require the Business Associate to maintain liability insurance in specified amounts at all times

Medical offices should reassess the method of destruction annually based on current technology, accepted practices and availability of timely and cost-effective destruction services.

Disclaimer: This information is general in scope and educational in nature. It is not intended as legal advice. If you require legal advice, contact an attorney.  
The recommendations in this publication do not indicate an exclusive course of treatment or serve as a standard of medical care. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances, may be appropriate. This content is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute financial or legal advice. A financial advisor or attorney should be consulted if financial or legal advice is desired. 

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American Academy of Pediatrics