Avoiding Liability Bulletin – May 2008

… Some states may not have a law that specifies the length of time that patient records must be maintained, but may leave it to the discretion of the practitioner and perhaps applicable ethical standards. Many states, however, do have laws that specify the length of time that patient records must be kept by a therapist or counselor. Do these laws provide for any discretion by the practitioner to comply with the wishes of the patient/consumer for early destruction? Suppose that a high profile patient shares with his or her therapist information of a highly personal or embarrassing nature. Suppose further that after the passage of three years from the time of termination, the patient asks the practitioner to destroy the records in order to protect his or her privacy. If the practitioner agrees to do this, is it permissible? What if the practitioner decides to write a summary and destroy the more revealing full record and the patient agrees? Is this permissible? Something to think about and check out!

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Richard Leslie

Richard S. Leslie is an attorney and acknowledged expert on the interrelationship between law and the practice of marriage and family therapy and psychotherapy. Most recently, he was a consultant to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and has written articles regarding legal and ethical issues for their Family Therapy Magazine. Prior to his work with AAMFT, Richard was Legal Counsel to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) for approximately twenty-two years. While there, he also served as their director of Government Relations and tirelessly advocated for due process and fairness for licensees and applicants.

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