How long to keep paperwork is something almost everyone struggles with — and medical paperwork is no exception.
In a recent online discussion among professional organizers, Connie Johnson of Routine Matters offered her suggestions — and I thought she did a great job summarizing the primary decision criteria for those living in the U.S. I know and respect Connie, and she's agreed to let me quote her — so here's Connie explaining how she walks her clients through the decision process for various medical papers:
The questions I use to guide the decision:Connie also mentioned that, for those who are anxious, they might scan the documents into Evernote so they will be searchable, and then let go of the hard copies.
1) Do they support deductions on a tax return?
2) Is there any pending issue with the provider or the insurance company? (e.g. a dispute of fees, diagnosis or treatment, or reimbursements)
3) Is there any medical history information that would benefit the person or other family members that would not be available if these were destroyed?
If the answers to all are no, then I think they can safely dispose of them. If there is sensitive info — like a social security number since insurance companies used to (may still?) use that for the membership ID — I shred.
If the only one that has a Yes answer is #1, I suggest they get a retention guideline from their tax preparer. (My preparer recommends saving supporting docs for 7 years, but they should do what they believe is right.)
If 2 is a Yes, then they need to keep until everything is resolved.
If 3 is a Yes, then I suggest this be a project with a completion deadline.
Other organizers have noted that they've experienced delayed billings or insurance snafus related to services rendered as long as seven years ago, and having their medical paperwork helped clear things up. So if you want to err on the side of caution, you might want to keep records for a while even if they don't meet the logical criteria that Connie listed; again, you can keep them in digital form if you don't want to keep the paper.
Want some more perspectives? An article in The New York Times said basically the same thing as Connie did. You can also read the advice from the AARP, which includes a recommendation to shred any records you dispose of that have any personal information, including your health insurance ID number, to help avoid medical identity theft.
One final thought, regarding Connie's third question: I'm a huge advocate for having your medical information and history pulled together and readily available for yourself, your family and your doctors. There are many ways you can do this — but that's a topic for another blog post.
Credit: Photo by Wendy Diedrich, found on Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons.