Know your State Regulations
First, start with understanding the regulations for your industry, which vary by state. These regulations define how long you need to retain patient records. The rules define if there are different requirements for minor and adult patients, what is required for a medical doctor versus a hospital, and how long to retain documents after a patient's death. Use resources such as HealthIT.gov to learn about your state's specific requirements.
Define Active and Inactive Files
Next, you should set a standard to define which files are considered active vs. inactive. The active files will be those you use regularly, such as with patients who make routine visits. For those patients who have not sought treatment in several years, you may choose to label their files as inactive. These files will still require access, but much less frequently. The American Health Information Management Association has recommendations to help you make this determination.
Once you have determined which files you need to access frequently, develop an organization system to keep these active files handy. An alphabetical organization system of file cabinets for these active files is simple to implement. But your inactive files will require more work. Consider if you want to scan and index these files or store them offsite. Investigate the assistance of a documentation management firm like R4 Services that can consult with you and determine the most efficient solution for your needs.
Develop a Destruction Plan
Once an inactive file has passed its requirements for access, you don't need to continue to hang onto it. Develop a plan to review your inactive files on a routine basis, and flag those that no longer need to be retained. Determine a method for destruction of both electronic and paper files to ensure the private information is secure, and you are also adhering to HIPAA standards.