What is the law regarding patient charts after the death of their physician?

My father-in-law was a pediatrician; he passed away a year ago. How long do I have to continue to keep the charts? Also, can I just give the chart to the patient or do I have to make a copy of it and continue to keep the record?

Asked on October 22, 2017 under Business Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

The issue of how long they'd be kept is based on malpractice: that is, for how long could a malpractice suit be brought and, is there anyone who can be sued?
In terms of how long, the statute of limitations, or time within which to bring a suit, is 2 years in Texas--two years after completion of treatment. If there were someone to be sued, he should keep the materials for at least 2 years after (I'd recommend 3 or 4, to be safe), so if patients wanted their charts, he should make them a copy (for which he can charge the cost of doing) and keep the originals in case he ever needs the materials to defend himsef.
BUT they were your father-in-law's, and he passed away. If his estate has not been settled (probate completed yet), hold onto the charts as if he were still alive, assuming there is any money or property in the estate you'd want to protect if the estate were sued--the estate can potentially be sued the way he could if alive, and if the estate is sued, that could take away assets you'd otherwise inherit.
But when the estate is fully settled and done, then unless you were his partner in the practice, there is no one who could be sued: you and your spouse are not liable for his actions, obligations, or debts, and once the estate is settled, it no longer exists and can't be sued. (Obviously, if he had a partner, it's for the partner in the practice to decide what to do.) At that time, the charts can be disposed of, though the best way would be to contact the patients and let them get them at their cost (e.g. provide prepaid postage or Fed Ex to send them to them).
My father was a sole practioner CPA; when he passed last year without an estate (nothing to sue), since he always sent his clients copies of everything and they had all their materials already, I simply shredded the back-up copies he kept.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.