Transmitting Personal Health Information by Fax

Faxing is considered a secure form of communication by Federal and Provincial Privacy Commissions, and is a common method of sharing information in health care. While the actual transmission of the information is secure, what happens before and after faxing can significantly impact the security of personal health information.

Having a fax policy, and a policy to cover breaches (to include any breach of personal health information, not just by faxing), is an essential step to ensure that you meet all federal and provincial privacy policies. Posting a fax policy near the fax machine is another good step.  Ensure that all employees are aware of any policies and that new employees are trained in these policies as well. Moreover, make sure your fax is in a secure place if you’re sending or receiving personal health information.

Several steps are required to ensure that personal health information being sent or received by fax is handled in such a way as to maintain patient confidentiality:

  1. Sender and receiver information is clearly identified.
  2. The person receiving the fax knows that nature of the information is confidential.
  3. The number of pages is indicated.
  4. Confirmation is received that the information was received by the intended recipient.

Consider pre-programming fax numbers for commonly used fax numbers. Send a test fax to each pre-programmed fax number and confirm that it was received. Keep a record or log of all faxed personal health information.

When transmitting personal health information by fax:

  1. Telephone the intended receiver that you are sending them a fax that includes highly sensitive personal health information.
  2. If the fax machine you are sending to is not in a secure location, request that they stand by the fax machine to receive the information. If you are faxing a new contact, consider phoning the fax number to ensure that it is indeed a valid fax number.
  3. Include a cover page which indicates:
    1. Name, address, and phone number of the sender.
    2. Name, address, and fax number of the receiving party.
    3. Number of pages transmitted.
    4. Notification that the enclosed information is confidential.
  4. When sending very sensitive information, request confirmation that the information was received as intended and that all pages were transmitted.
  5. Print a fax confirmation page which shows the fax telephone number, the number of pages sent, and that the fax was successfully sent. Keep the fax confirmation page with the document that was faxed.
  6. Remember to remove documents from the fax machine after the fax is sent. Return them to the appropriate file or chart.

When receiving personal health information by fax:

  1. Verify who the intended recipient is, and that you were suppose to receive this information. If not, notify the sender and return, shred or delete the fax.
  2. Verify the number of pages received is correct. If not, contact the sender and notify them of the missing pages.
  3. Do not leave the fax at an unattended or non-secure location.
  4. Treat the documentation as you would other confidential personal health information.

Information faxed in error

Follow your company’s “Reporting of Security Breaches Related to Personal Health Information Policy.”  If there is no policy, consider the following actions:

  • Contact the person who received the fax and ask them to return or destroy it immediately
  • Inform your supervisor of the error and take appropriate actions, which could include:
    • Evaluate the risks associated with the breach.  
    • Decide who to notify about the breach (this may include affected individuals, privacy officer, technology providers, regulatory bodies, Ombudsman’s Office).
    • Take steps to prevent future breaches.

Following a few, clear procedures will help to ensure that your faxes will be sent confidentially, maintaining personal information privacy.

2Ascribe Inc. is a medical transcription services agency located in Toronto, Ontario Canada, providing medical transcription services to physicians, clinics and other healthcare providers across Canada. Our medical transcriptionists take pride in the quality of your transcribed documents. WEBscribe is our client interface portal for document management. 2Ascribe continues to implement and develop technology to assist and improve the transcription process for physicians and other healthcare providers, and recently introduced AUTOfax. AUTOfax works within WEBscribe to automatically send faxes to referring physicians when a document is signed off by the healthcare professional. As a service to our clients and the healthcare industry, 2Ascribe offers articles of interest to physicians and other healthcare professionals, medical transcriptionists and office staff, as well as of general interest. Additional articles may be found at http://www.2ascribe.com

This entry was posted on in Business, Privacy Legislation.

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