July 23, 2024

The Importance of Retaining Protected Health Information

Protected Health Information (PHI) is any individually identifiable health information that is held or transmitted by a covered entity or its business associate. This includes not only medical records and billing information but also conversations about an individual’s health and any information used to make healthcare decisions.

Retaining PHI is crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, it ensures that healthcare providers have access to accurate and complete information when treating patients. This helps to improve the quality of care and reduce the risk of medical errors. Additionally, retaining PHI is necessary to comply with legal and regulatory requirements, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The Legal Requirements for Retaining PHI

HIPAA does not provide specific guidelines on how long an individual should retain PHI. Instead, it requires covered entities to implement policies and procedures that govern the retention and destruction of PHI based on their specific circumstances and legal requirements.

However, there are some general guidelines that can help individuals determine how long they should retain their PHI. For example, healthcare providers typically retain medical records for a minimum of six years from the date of the last treatment or, in the case of minors, six years from the date the patient reaches the age of majority.

Factors to Consider when Retaining PHI

When determining how long to retain PHI, individuals should consider several factors. These include the type of information, the purpose for which it was collected, and any applicable legal requirements or recommendations from professional organizations.

For example, medical records that document a serious illness or injury may be relevant for a longer period of time than routine check-up records. Similarly, records related to ongoing treatment or chronic conditions may need to be retained for a longer period of time.

The Benefits of Retaining PHI

Retaining PHI can provide several benefits to both individuals and healthcare providers. For individuals, having access to their complete medical history can help them make more informed decisions about their healthcare and better understand their health conditions.

For healthcare providers, having access to complete and accurate PHI can help them provide more effective and efficient care. It can also help them identify patterns or trends in a patient’s health over time, which can aid in diagnosis and treatment planning.

How to Safely Retain PHI

When retaining PHI, it is important to take steps to ensure its security and privacy. This includes implementing appropriate physical, technical, and administrative safeguards to protect against unauthorized access, use, and disclosure.

Some best practices for safely retaining PHI include storing it in a secure location, encrypting electronic PHI, regularly monitoring and auditing access to PHI, and training staff on the importance of protecting PHI and the proper handling of sensitive information.

The Importance of Properly Disposing of PHI

Once the retention period for PHI has expired, it is important to properly dispose of it to prevent unauthorized access or use. This can be done through methods such as shredding paper documents or securely deleting electronic files.

Properly disposing of PHI is not only a legal requirement but also a responsible practice that helps protect individuals’ privacy and prevent identity theft or fraud.


While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how long an individual should retain protected health information, it is important to consider the legal requirements, the specific circumstances, and the potential benefits of retaining PHI. By implementing appropriate retention and disposal practices, individuals can ensure the security and privacy of their health information while also complying with legal and regulatory requirements.