Image Archival and Legal Requirements
VitalRads Radiology Pearls
The images that you take in your clinic, whether they be radiographs, ultrasound, or advanced cross-sectional images, are part of the patient’s medical record. These images must be stored in a secure environment and readily available if you or the patient’s owner requires them in the future. There is also a question of “ownership” of the images that you obtain on a patient.
4 facts about image archival and legal requirements:
- How long do you need to keep medical images? You must keep all medical images for the same amount of time you are required by law to keep your hand-written or electronic medical records in the practice management software. In nearly all cases, the length to time you must keep medical images is governed by State Requirements and you should check with your State Veterinary Licensing Board. In general, most states require that you keep all images for at least 5 years. You are professiona
- What is the best way to archive medical images? If you still have hard copy films (that you can hold in your hand), you must keep the films either on-site or in readily available off-site storage and be able to find a specific set of films for each patient, for the state mandated period of time. It is very common to have films and film jackets that are lost or mis-filed and it costs money to store hard copy films. If you have digital images, you can archive the images locally on a portable hard drive attached to your imaging computer (DR computer), or on a NAS device. However, keep in mind that it is not a matter of “if” your hard drive will crash, it is a matter of “when.” Therefore, it is HIGHLY recommended to also archive your images off-site, which is secure, and storage is redundant. The images are typically stored in DICOM format; however, the DICOM image file size can be quite large. If these images are remotely stored in a PACS system (recommended), any individual image for any animal can be easily retrieved within seconds. If these images are stored using services such as Carbonite, Google Drive or OneDrive, it will be nearly impossible to find an individual image or individual animal’s images as the file name is essentially encrypted (i.e., it is not filed under “Jones, Fluffy”). Keep in mind that it remains your responsibility to make sure all images are being sent to the remote archive. Bottom line, it is recommended to archive your images in your facility and also remotely on a cloud based PACS. There are several companies in veterinary medicine that offer this service, VitalRADS included, for a nominal fee.
- Who owns the images I take in my practice? The veterinarian owns the images, not the owner. The owner pays you a fee to obtain the images, but the veterinarian owns them. This is true in all 50 states.
- Are clients entitled to the images on their animal? Yes. However, they are entitled to receive a copy of the images, not the originals (you own those) as you must keep these for legal reasons for your medical records. You need to be able to offer to give the owner a copy of each image and you can charge a “fair” fee to do this service. With electronic images, this is easy as the images can be emailed or saved to a flash drive.