Most New York City physicians are aware of their obligations to allow current and previous patients access to their medical records. However, when a physician retires, joins another practice, or leaves private practice in order to pursue other options, the obligation of properly maintaining medical records may be overlooked.
New York law requires a physician to maintain patient records for six years from the date of the patient’s last visit or, if the patient is a minor, for one year following the patient’s 18th birthday. Although the records are the property of the physician, patients are entitled to access to their medical records or an accurate copy thereof, upon written request. The physician is generally obligated to comply with such a request within 10 days after receiving it.
A physician may deny a patient’s request for records only if there is a proper basis for doing so; for example, if releasing the records would damage the patient’s wellbeing. The physician must be prepared to back up the refusal to deny records and to participate in an administrative process where the patient may appeal the denial.
A physician who is planning to retire or to close his or her practice must give the patients adequate notice (usually, 30 days is considered sufficient). Physicians are advised to let the patient know whether and when the record will be transferred to another physician, and how the patient may be able to obtain access to the records in the future. Physicians must ensure that patients have a way to access their records even after the practice is closed; many physicians arrange for a storage company to handle such requests, or will transfer the records to another physician.
If a physician fails to ensure his or her patients’ access to their patient records, such failure may result in a professional misconduct complaint to the New York State Department of Health Office of Professional Medical Conduct or a complaint to the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights. There may be an investigation and hearing. Though, typically, professional discipline in such cases is not severe, it is advisable to take proper precautions to avoid being the subject of even a relatively minor complaint.
If you are a New York City physician and you have concerns about your procedures for allowing patients access to their medical records, or about any of the various issues attending a retirement or transfer of practice, our experienced health care attorneys will be able to help you ensure full compliance with both the law and best practices guidelines.
Call our experienced NYC health care attorneys at (212) 577-6677 to schedule an immediate consultation.