Inactive Health Records: A Color-Coded System of Organization

By Carol Mulvihill, R.N.,C., Director of Health Services, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford


Last year at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, I implemented a new method of organizing and keeping inactive health forms on students who are no longer enrolled at the university.

Since the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania is seven years, we keep health records for seven years post-enrollment. That is the period of time within which an individual could file a suit or take legal action relative to those documents. Since this varies from state to state, and since there may be other reasons to keep records for a longer period of time, the length of time you decide to keep inactive health records may vary.

I only pull the inactive files once a year in mid-September. Students who graduate or leave in December do not have their health records pulled and labeled as inactive until the following September. So essentially, the inactive files are kept a minimum of seven years, some closer to eight.

In the past, I kept inactive files alphabetically arranged in boxes with the year they went inactive labeled on the outside. But every time I had a request from someone to send their immunization information to another college, I had to rummage through the boxes to see if we even had the information they were requesting.

Now I have a system that makes storage and retrieval of inactive records easy and convenient. Here's how the new system works:

Whenever I get a request from a former student for information on a health record to be sent to another provider or institution, I or my secretary can check the inactive file immediately to see whether or not we have the information that is being requested. We prefer to FAX health records to the provider or institution whenever possible, and we never send more information than what is requested (ie. if a former student requests immunization records, we do not copy the entire chart, only the pages that are pertinent to the request. After the info is faxed, we place the face sheet of the fax in the health form. If someone calls back in two weeks to see if it was sent, we have the verification that it was. Also, I will accept a signed request which is faxed to us.

After just six months of using the new system, I give it a big "thumbs up" and so does my secretary. It is the single biggest administrative improvement I made in our health service last year. I would recommend it particularly to directors of small health services.

Return to List of Articles in Summer 1997 Issue of CQ