When a patient dies, how long are we required to keep his/her dental records?

Record retention laws vary from state to state, so the first step is to check your state’s dental practice act and record retention laws.

The American Dental Association recommends that providers retain a copy of all records for at least six years after the patient’s termination, transfer, or death. However, some states require providers to keep dental records for at least ten years, which is why you must check your state’s record retention laws.

Risk liability insurance carriers often advise dentists to keep some records longer. For additional protection, some recommend the “6-10-21 Rule.” This rule advises dentists to keep patient records at least 6 years from the date of the patient’s death, at least 10 years after the patient’s last visit, and, in the case of minors, at least 21 years from the date of birth.

Some PPO contracts contain record retention provisions. Refer to the PPO contract and processing policy manual for clarity.

The same guideline applies to the retention of radiographic images and other diagnostic studies. It is recommended that appointment books be retained for at least 10 years.

With regard to minors, many states require providers to retain records for at least 6 years past the state’s “age of majority,” which is often 18, but this can vary from state to state.

Of course, if you want to be absolutely safe, records should be retained indefinitely.

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