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Late Stage Practice Articles

If you’re retiring or otherwise closing your practice, be sure to inform your patients. This notice should be in writing, setting forth the date, and the recommendation that the patient make arrangements to be placed under the care of another dentist. You might suggest the name of another dentist or a contact who could assist in this regard.

You must also notify the Michigan Department of Community Health if you are retiring and disclose to it who has custody of your dental records.

The letter to your patients should also make reference to their dental records, with the request that the patient authorize transfer of the dental records to another dentist.

Retaining original records. Unless you are assured that the new dentist will retain your records for the appropriate retention period, and this assurance is in writing, it is recommended that you retain the original records. The records can be copied and forwarded to the new dentist. Dental records should always be available to the dentist who performed the services for the retention period.

Michigan’s Public Health Code mandates that dental treatment records be kept at least 10 years after the performance of the last service performed upon the patient. Medicaid records must be kept for six years.

A consideration of the applicable statutes of limitations is appropriate in analyzing this issue. For instance, the statute of limitations for malpractice is two years, with a discovery period that could extend the statute of limitations up to six years, which is the current statute of repose in Michigan.

With respect to minors, the current statute of limitations provides that the claim must be commenced on or before the minor's 10th birthday. The statute of limitations for contract claims is six years. There are additional tolling provisions that might apply in other circumstances, such as fraudulent concealment by the dentist and incompetence of the patient.

All this being said, it’s best to keep records for at least 10 years. This avoids the practical problem of attempting to determine and separate treatment from non-treatment records. A period of at least 10 years would likely cover concerns for patients and the dentist with respect to malpractice or other legal issues.

The safest policy, of course, would be to maintain records indefinitely. After an appropriate retention period, the records could be reproduced by means of electronic recording or an equivalent technique, and the original records could then be destroyed. Before destruction of medical records beyond the retention period, patients should be given the opportunity to claim the records themselves, assuming the patient has not given written authority to forward the records to another dentist. This offer should be in writing, with sufficient time for the patient to respond. If the records are discarded, they should be destroyed, in order to preserve confidentiality. The law does not specify any particular means of destruction of records, but it clearly imposes the obligation on dentists to make sure that it is done, so that strict confidentiality is maintained.

If you have further questions about dental record-keeping, access, release or disposal, contact the MDA.