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Dental Records: Best Practices for Information Management and Retention

Course Number: 532

Retention of Records

The regulations regarding the retention of records varies by federal and state rulings. While some notations and forms can be purged after a certain period, some records such as radiographic images should be kept indefinitely as they can be used in forensic identification. Storage of these physical records can take up a great deal of room. It must be remembered that the amount of storage space available cannot dictate retention. The office must follow state and federal law concerning the retention of records.1

Each state has established rules regarding the length of time that legal actions can be pursued. After that time expires, known as the statute of limitations, the files can be purged. Before a practice begins this process, the National Archives and Records Service had produced a guide titled, “Guide to Record Retention Requirements” that should be thoroughly read.6

Records can be transferred within different areas of the practice according to the active status of the patient, active record storage space, and the ability to access the record as needed until the statute of limitation allows for purging.6 The dental staff must know where the record is located at all times. True purging may not be accomplished due to laws, but records can be condensed and saved via microfilm, disks, or magnetic tape.1

Records can be transferred to a different dental office or entity after the patient has made a formal, preferably written, request. The dentist must protect the information and maintain the patient privacy. The records transferred must be copies as the original records must remain with the practice.