What actually happens to treatment records when a successor takes over a medical practice or when a new company physician succeeds the previous company physician?

The „two-closet model“ ensures data protection in such cases.

Maximum protection for medical data

Anyone seeking medical treatment expects the highest level of protection for their data. Medical confidentiality plays a central role in this. It must also be maintained when a successor takes over a medical practice or when the company doctor changes.

Retention obligation of ten years

From a purely legal point of view, everything is clear: once treatment has been completed, a doctor must retain the patient’s file for ten years. This is stated in Section 630f (3) of the German Civil Code (BGB). This obligation continues, for example, when a doctor retires and hands over the practice to a successor. Patient records must continue to be reliably protected.

Too quickly, the duty to retain records is only on paper

But how can this be ensured in the practice? The previous practice owner no longer wants to worry about the records in retirement. And a company doctor who has retired has other things to do in the meantime. It is understandable that he would prefer not to deal with the existing documents.

The elements of the „two-closet model

The „two-closet model“ offers a way out of this dilemma. The data protection supervisory authorities recommend it. In the meantime, it has become common practice. For classic patient files on paper, it works like this in a doctor’s office:

  • Two cabinets are placed in the doctor’s office.
  • Cabinet 1 contains the documents that were created during the previous owner’s work. They are locked away.
  • Cabinet 2 is initially completely empty.
  • The key for both cabinets is given to the successor of the practice.
  • The previous owner of the practice and his successor conclude a contract. In it, the successor undertakes to keep the existing documents strictly secured in cabinet 1.
  • If a patient of the previous practice owner comes to the successor, the latter asks the patient whether he or she allows access to the existing documents.
  • Usually this is the case. Then Cabinet 1 is opened and the patient’s records there are moved to Cabinet 2.
  • After some time, cabinet 1 has usually emptied quite a bit and cabinet 2 has filled up quite a bit.
  • The „remaining documents“ in cabinet 1 remain there until the retention period of ten years has expired. Then these documents are destroyed in accordance with data protection regulations.

The model also works for electronic records

The example of traditional paper patient records is particularly easy to follow. However, the model also works when patient records are in electronic form. In a few years, this is likely to be the norm. In this case, the „two-closet model“ is simply replicated electronically.

The existing data stock is locked and specially secured against access when the practice is handed over. Only when the patient agrees with the successor to the practice does the successor to the practice unlock the data set. Of course, this does not necessarily have to be done personally. Someone from the practice team who has been specially instructed can also do this.

Particularly data-protection compliant: logging access

The electronic version is particularly data-protection compliant. It is possible to log every access without any problems. If the logging is set up correctly, the stored data cannot be changed afterwards. Then, in the event of any complaints, it is easy to determine whether or not everything has been done properly.

Small peculiarities possible when changing the company physician

When changing the company physician, the model can be adapted to the structures that are in place in each case. Some companies have placed the function of the company doctor with an external practice that also keeps the patient records. In other companies, the patient records are kept within the company itself. Of course, only the company physician has access. In this case, the key for the existing documents would have to remain with the previous company physician until a new company physician is appointed.