The passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 1996, along with general concerns about privacy rights and identity theft, have made shredders a necessity in health care settings.
Medical offices may need to shred a wide variety of records, including outdated patient files, billing records and lab reports. Anything with a patient's contact information, as well as letters and other communication about patients, should be shredded under HIPAA. (Consult the full text of the law, or an attorney, for more details.)
The latest shredders aren't limited to destroying paper. Some models shred x-rays, CD and other material. There are even shredders (such as Shredding Systems, Inc.'s Quad shredder) designed to destroy medical waste.
Some medical offices can get by with low-end personal shredders that fit under a desk. But the need to shred greater quantities of documents, as well as thicker items such as manila folders, means a higher-end model is probably a better choice. Also, a cross-cut shredder cuts the paper into smaller pieces and thus offers more security than a strip-cut shredder.
Medical offices with a high volume of paper to securely destroy, or who do not wish to devote staff time to the task, might want to consider a mobile shredding service or taking the records off-site to a secure shredding and disposal facility. Be sure that you receive a HIPAA-compliant certificate of disposal from the shredding company.
A 2002 article in Medical Economics quoted experts recommending that those working in a health care setting be careful not to shred elements patient charts until the statute of limitations for malpractice suits has passed. Billing records should be kept at least seven years for tax purposes, the article's sources advised.