Paper shredders are like shoes; a good fit is important.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) states that patient information must be properly destroyed rather than simply discarded in a waste basket. Shredding patient records is the most effective way of fulfilling the HIPAA requirements and ensuring that patient privacy is protected.

There are many things to consider when shopping for a paper shredder for a medical practice, from the volume of documents to be destroyed on a daily basis to an office’s workflow. One can easily become overwhelmed by the range of models available. Choosing a paper shredder that meets the day-to-day needs of your medical practice requires an understanding of the many types of shedders and their features.

Most shredders come standard with the ability to process staples, small paper clips and identification cards as well as a reverse-feed function to clear paper jams. These features come in handy for busy medical office personnel with little time to spare on removing staples and paper clips. High-end models can include storage space for shredders bags and blade cleaning materials as well as troubleshooting LED indicator lights. Here are the basics things you need to know and questions your need to answer to make the proper selection.

Types of Shredders

Paper shredders fall into three basic categories: personal, business and commercial-grade. Personal models are compact in size for easy storage under a desk and low in price (under $200). These basic shredders generally have a 14 sheet capacity and are designed for minimal daily use by an individual. More extensive use will quickly wear out the motor, making these models a poor fit for most medical practices. Personal shredders, like hairdryers, are not designed for long-term use.

Most small-to-mid-sized medical practices require a business shredder model. They can process a heavier paper load (up to 40 sheets of paper at one time) and are designed for more frequent use by several people. Larger in size than personal models, they require placement in a more-centralized office location. Prices for these units vary widely, from $250 to $2,000 depending on their paper processing capacity and extra features such as automatic shut-off.

Commercial shredders are designed to be a centralized source for high-volume shredding. These expensive units cost up to $10,000 and can process anywhere from 40 to 100 sheets of paper at one time.

Cross cut shredders versus strip cut shredders?

A cross cut shredder is the best choice for irrevocably destroying private medical records. These machines will turn one sheet of paper into hundreds of confetti-like pieces. They offer a higher level of security than strip cut shredders, which shred paper in ribbon-like strips.

What am I shredding?

Shredders can be temperamental. Failing to precisely feed an 8 inch sheet of paper into an 8 inch shredder opening can result in a paper jam. To save time trying to fit paper into the opening or clearing a paper jam, consider purchasing a shredder with an opening of 9 or larger. For practices that shred documents that are legal-sized or larger, a shredder with an opening larger than 9 inches would be easier to feed.

In addition to paper records, some medical offices that have transitioned to electronic medical records systems store patient information on CDs and DVDs. These medical practices should consider a shredder with the ability to destroy these tougher items.

How much paper am I shredding daily?

Determining your office shredding capacity is the most important criteria when selecting a shredder. For a practice that shreds several hundred sheets of paper per day, a larger model that can shred up to 40 sheets would be a good fit. Be sure not to underestimate how much you are shredding, or how much you will shred in the future. Saving some money on smaller shredding capacity with cost you more in the long run when you have to upgrade to a larger model.

Who is shredding? And where?

It is important to consider who is shredding sensitive documents and where the shredding is occurring. Records being shredded at the individual desks of 15 medical office personnel will require smaller and less expensive models at each location rather than one larger and more expensive model in a centralized office location. But this could also prove to be a security nightmare and put your practice at risk of HIPAA violations. A larger, centrally-located, business-sized model can ensure that records marked for destruction remain private and secure. It would also prevent patients and other office visitors from mistakenly viewing personal health information sitting on top of someone’s desk.

Unfortunately, shredding paper is a loud task. Keep the noise level in mind when selecting what type of shredder(s) to buy and determining office placement.

Christine Wojdyla is a Medical Records Expert at Amerifile, Inc. Amerifile is a direct marketer of specialized office products including cabinets, folders, dividers, labels and forms. Its customers depend on its service and expertise to help them create, store, maintain and retrieve medical records. For more information, visit