As we begin a new year, it’s the perfect time to move medical records shredding and storage cleanouts to the top of your “to-do” list. Now is the time to get rid of any old documents that contain sensitive patient information, as well as any other outdated or unnecessary materials.
The process can be time-consuming and costly, so it’s important to be strategic about what you keep and what you get rid of – and shred medical records as needed. Regardless of the time of year, your medical practice or facility could probably use a cleanout. Here’s why.
Why You Need a Shred Cleanout
In the medical field, it is important to properly dispose of sensitive documents to protect patient privacy. One way to do this is through secure document destruction, or secure shredding. This involves hiring a company that specializes in shredding documents and destroying them in a way that makes it impossible to reconstruct the original documents. The shredding company should have strict measures in place to ensure the confidentiality of the documents being shredded.
A shred cleanout, or one-time purge (especially if done on a regular basis), is a great way to stay organized for years to come and on top of your shredding needs. It does require some planning for best results. However, it can also be a catalyst to generate items needed for your policies and procedures, such as a document retention and destruction policy (see below).
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule provides federal protections for protected health information (PHI) and improper disposal of PHI is cited as one of the most common HIPAA violations. Substantial penalties can be incurred by medical facilities and practices that violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule, as well as vendors who offer medical records services. An Illinois medical records storage company received a $100,000 fine after delivering medical records to a shredding facility, but failing to properly dispose of the documents.
We have some guidelines that will hopefully help make the cleanout process easier and more efficient.
Ten Steps for Medical Records Shredding and Cleanouts
Here are some questions that you might have and ten helpful steps for conducting a shred cleanout for your medical practice.
Can I Just Shred Everything?
- Create a plan. Instead of simply shredding everything (which might get expensive), determine which documents you need to keep and for how long and decide how often you will shred old documents. A clear-cut document retention and destruction policy will take the guess work out of the process.
- Gather all the documents that require secure shredding. This may include old patient files, records, and any other documents that contain sensitive information.
- Make sure to separate patient records from other documents, as they require special handling. Some documents may be able to be disposed of without shredding, while others will need to be securely destroyed.
Should I Hire a Document Destruction Company?
- When you need to shred medical records, consider hiring a professional document destruction company to handle the shredding for you. This will ensure that the documents are properly destroyed and that your practice is compliant with privacy laws and regulations, including all document shredding laws.
- When you talk to local shredding companies, do your research. Choose a reputable document destruction company that follows all HIPAA regulations for handling sensitive medical documents and make sure you receive a certificate of destruction. Use a company that has experience and knows how to shred medical records.
- Consider hiring a shredding company that can bundle your secure document destruction needs with other services, such as medical waste management. That way, you reduce risk and disruption with fewer vendors and visits. You can also streamline accounting with one invoice and pay a fair rate.
What Can Help Make a Shred Cleanout Easier?
- Set aside time for the shred cleanout (see number 1.) on a regular basis, such as once a year, and schedule it with your local shredding company. This will help you stay on top of document disposal and prevent a build-up of documents that need secure shredding.
8. Make sure to dispose of any electronic documents and devices that contain sensitive information. This may include hard drives, laptops, and tablets.
9. Keep track of the medical records shredding process and document it for your records. This will demonstrate to regulators that you are taking steps to protect patient privacy.
10. Share what works for you with your friends and peers in medical office management. They might have some helpful ideas for you. Sharing resources is a great way for everyone to be more productive in the new year. (Or, you might just feel better after swapping shred stories – lol.)
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your medical practice stays compliant and protects the privacy of your patients. TriHaz Solutions offers secure, compliant medical records shredding services for your office that combine with our customized waste plans for a one-stop solution.