Ever since Wilhelm Röentgen discovered X-rays in 1895, X-ray records have been piling up; but what are X-rays? How are X-ray records stored? And, what rights do patients have to them? Take a look inside:
What Are X-rays and X-ray Records?
An X-ray is a type of electromagnetic radiation. It transmits at different wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum (EM). X-rays have higher energy than visible light. They are able to pass through a majority of objects. As they pass, photographic film records them. Denser materials, like bone, show up white. Softer tissues appear gray. In that manner, the film captures an image of the body’s interior. That film is an X-ray record. It is one component of a patient’s medical records. Medical records can consist of many things. Including lab results, physician reports, and other private information.
X-ray records are a common component of many patients’ medical records. Whether it be rib X-rays, dental X-rays — whatever — providers must keep X-ray records with great care. Those records must also remain entirely accessible to clients. Providers must maintain HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy standards, as well.
X-ray Records Storage
X-ray film deteriorates if not stored properly. It requires a cool, dry, typically dark environment. It must also be safe from an array of harmful gases. Many providers use a high-quality X-ray envelope for storage. Inevitably, however, the film deteriorates and grows brittle.
Fortunately, digital storage offers an efficient path forward. Not only are X-ray images saved digitally now, relevant patient information accompanies them. Such information can consist of radiologists’ notes and other useful information. Furthermore, captured images do not deteriorate visually or structurally over time. One’s X-ray records can be attached and combined with one’s overall medical records indefinitely. There is no loss of quality or clarity. That is an enormous advantage — science meets technology, meets utility, meets convenience.
There is no universal standard for how long medical providers keep X-ray records. Prudence, however, dictates several years. Most providers store them a minimum of seven. Luckily, the shift to digital X-ray records also makes long-term storage a viable option. The rapid rate of hard drive expansion in today’s world indicates digital storage space is virtually limitless.
HIPAA on Patients’ Rights to Records
What rights does a patient have to access his or her X-ray records, though? And, how secure is one’s right to privacy?
HIPAA states patients are largely in control of their medical records. This includes X-ray records. However, patients do not own their records: Patients have the right to request to view their medical records, free of charge. Patients may also request copies of their records, usually at a fee. Patients rights include requesting a summary of their medical records. Additional fees usually show up there, as well. Note, however, providers are required to deliver medical records within 30 days of a patient’s written request. Transfer of patients’ medical records to another provider should only occur at the request of the patients. Privacy is at the discretion and safeguarding of the patient.
X-ray Records Are Here to Stay
Until another breakthrough in medical technology proves more useful, X-rays will continue as essential medical tools. Whether it be rib X-rays, dental X-rays — you name it — X-ray records come with it. Thanks to the integration of modern technology, those records are shifting to digital files and storage. Whatever method one’s X-ray records are stored, though, it’s good to know HIPAA continues to protect patients’ rights. Accessibility and privacy are paramount in today’s digital world.
Featured image CC by A-SA 3.0, by Nevit Dilmen, via Wikimedia Commons