Scan, store medical records electronically for easy access

March 1, 2005

New Orleans —Because patient medical records must be stored for years and in some cases indefinitely, dermatologists should consider computer storage and scanning hardware and software, now less costly than paper storage," according to Stanford I. Lamberg, M.D., associate professor of dermatology, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and in private practice in Baltimore.

New Orleans -Because patient medical records must be stored for years and in some cases indefinitely, dermatologists should consider computer storage and scanning hardware and software, now less costly than paper storage," according to Stanford I. Lamberg, M.D., associate professor of dermatology, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and in private practice in Baltimore.

"Scanning records is particularly beneficial for dermatology as a specialty because there are often years between the patient's visits," Dr.Lamberg explained at the American Academy of Dermatology's (AAD) 63rd Annual Meetingannual meeting here.

"Patients come in only when they have a problem. They often do not remember which treatments they received and how successful these treatments were. You need the patient's record for that information."

Most states require that adult patients' records be retained for five to 10 years. A common misconception is that Medicare requires seven years.

"Medicare's seven years guideline has nothing to do with medical-legal aspects of the record. They say only that Medicare won't come back at you after seven years to collect money on a wrong coding or billing issue. However, the time limit does not apply if Medicare suspects fraud," he says.

"The only reason Medicare would come back to you at all would be that they think you have been systematically upcoding. Once they say 'fraud' there is no time limit.

"According to the GE Medical Protective, the largest U.S. medical malpractice carrier, 10 percent of lawsuits filed against physicians in all medical specialties are not brought until five years or more after the incident. This liability exposure leads malpractice insurance carriers to advise physicians to keep records as long as possible, even indefinitely, as insurers find it easier to defend the physician if a record is available than to contend with the physician's and patient's memories," Dr. Lamberg explains.

Additionally, there is no "statute of limitations" in regard to administrative actions by state licensing boards, which may require a physician to respond to a complaint many years after an incident.

Paper charts "Many physicians give expensive office floor space to storing thousands of charts that haven't been pulled for years," he says.

When inactive charts are needed, office staff must leave the front desk to search the back office. Often, they realize only after a time-consuming office search that the record is stored offsite.

Scanning records Dr. Lamberg points out paper storage problems, such as demands on space and time, can be eliminated if the charts are transferred to digital media by scanning them into a computer.