Sometimes we receive medical bills, insurance information, and records in the mail. sometimes we get them through a patient portal. sometimes they email them to us, and sometimes we only get a small printout when we leave our appointment. Do you keep all these medical records? how do you keep them? should you keep all your medical records? the questions end here with some expert guidelines on what medical records to keep and for how long.
why do you need to keep medical records?
Even if you are in good health and have no pressing concerns, you should always keep your medical records and share them with at least one person in your trusted circle of family, friends, or caregivers. that includes advance directives like a living will and health care proxy. In the worst case scenario, if you are incapacitated due to illness or injury and need treatment, having your providers have access to your medical records can be the difference between life and death.
Also, having up-to-date medical records can help you avoid billing errors. sometimes mistakes are made and you may feel like you’re being asked to pay for something you shouldn’t. Having accurate data about your treatments, insurance information and billing history is very important to ensure that you only pay exactly for the treatment you receive.
what medical records should I keep?
For you and your immediate family, you should keep medical records related to the following as you get them:
When it comes to your history, you need to keep certain records forever, store them securely, and update them as new conditions are diagnosed or medications or health status change. you must do this for yourself and your dependents. Examples of medical history that you should keep documentation of include:
- personal health history
- new conditions, diagnoses, congenital conditions and when they started and/or were diagnosed
- dates of any injury requiring medical treatment
- dates of treatments, diagnoses, surgeries and changes in treatments
- dates and durations of any hospitalization
- current dosages
- start dates or change of medication or dose
- a list of vitamins and supplements
- names and contact information of all providers
- generational health history
- medical conditions of family members that may be genetic, such as cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, and mental illness (information for parents, siblings, and grandparents)
- medical bills
- additional fees for medical visits or treatment
- prescription costs
- insurance documents
- proof of insurance start dates
- premium payment receipts
- explanation of benefit claims
related: how to request copies of your medical records
How long should I keep medical records?
depends on the type of document you are storing.
how long should medical records be kept
Both medical and legal experts say you should keep documentation of personal and generational medical history throughout your life. “In the event of your death, that information can be very helpful for your children to keep in their own family history records,” says South Carolina attorney David Aylor.
You should keep your family’s health history records forever. certain conditions are genetic and past conditions may dictate future diagnoses and treatment. past surgeries and medications may have complications or indications for providers in the future.
related: why is family medical history important?
how long to keep medical bills and insurance records
For billing and insurance documents, consensus varies on how long you, as a patient, should keep your medical records, but federal law requires your provider to keep your medical records for at least seven years. Insurance companies typically keep data for seven to 10 years under state law, so you should do the same.
If you received a bill months or even years after the procedure or treatment, you will probably still have to pay. State law varies when it comes to how long after a medical treatment you have to pay, but it can be a long time depending on the timeliness of your provider’s billing department. if you are charged for late payments long after a treatment, check your local laws. Some states say you can’t be penalized for a set period of time after a bill. this variation between states is a good reason to keep medical records for a long time.
how to store medical files
Several experts have great suggestions for keeping track of your medical records. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to choose an organization method that works well for you. if you use a filing cabinet for your taxes, you might do the same for your medical records. consider a fireproof storage box for paper documents.
digitally, you have a few options. Storing them using a cloud service, like Dropbox or Google Drive, makes it easy to access important documents from anywhere you have an internet connection. You can use the cloud storage of your choice or an eHealth service that specializes in medical record keeping. Your insurance company may offer eHealth options, or you can find one to use independently, which is a good idea if your insurance changes. some examples include healthvault, carecloud, and myphr.
One tip about digital records is to make sure someone else can access them if you can’t. share a password-protected document with a trusted person that contains a master list. in the event that you cannot access your records, this person can log in and view the list. you can set up your google account with access for your beneficiaries if you die.
From a legal standpoint, some experts say you should have a hard copy of all records. “Keep them in a locked file cabinet or safe that is well protected, making sure to share the code or key with someone you trust for access if absolutely necessary,” says minesh patel, principal attorney at the patel firm in texas.
When it’s time to dispose of old medical records, “make sure you shred them before you throw them away so no one can steal your personal data if they find the document,” Patel says.
Knowing and documenting your own health and history is an important way to advocate for yourself as a patient. being able to provide documentation can make your treatment go smoothly and help keep your finances in order.
Don’t forget to include mental health treatments and medications in your records, as well as the use of vitamins and supplements for any physical or mental conditions or symptoms. This information is helpful for new health care providers or to inform your treatment if you are unable to share your history. some people wear medical bracelets to share this important information. For certain other groups, like older adults, it may be a good idea to post your medical history, medication list, and emergency contacts on the refrigerator or on the back of the front door.
medical bills and insurance records
new events or medical treatments belong to another category. Your providers may also keep copies of these records to use for insurance or treatment purposes in the near future. these include: