January 18, 2018 4 min read
Using fax to share patient information impedes effective and safe coordination of care, and does little to protect patient privacy when used conventionally. If you were to follow the guideline for using fax to share patient information safely published by the OIPC of Alberta you’d likely give up on fax as too cumbersome and costly right away. In fact, if most practices look at their fax procedures, I think they’d discover that they aren’t complying with privacy laws. Read on to learn what you’re doing wrong and to find an easier way. You’ve likely been told that your office uses fax because it’s compliant. However, fax technology itself is not compliant, it actually exposes patient information quite easily. There are policies and procedures you must put in place around your fax machine to ensure patient information is protected. To reduce the risk of accidentally disclosing patient information when using a fax machine in healthcare, the OIPC recommends (in part) the following:
This is excellent practice. True confirmation of the number should be done by calling the recipient as it is the only way to know if your records are up-to-date.
In practice, this requires you to call in advance of each fax to question recipients about the safeguards they have in place. If they haven’t taken proper precautions, you can’t send them a fax and still comply with the law no matter what precautions you take on your end. What if they’re unable to answer the phone, do you wait to send the fax?
With this action, sending a fax has two phone calls added to the effort required to be compliant. Many clinics do follow up with faxes sent but only when there is no word back from the receiver after a certain length of time.
There are two complications here. First, while the majority of faxing may be done by one person in the back office of your clinic, locking away the main method of communication adds time and effort to the job of many staff. Second, requiring the fax machine be monitored while sending or receiving communications takes attention away from important tasks within your clinic.
This is a volume issue. How many faxes to you receive in a day, and how likely are all the the clinics sending you faxes to respect your allotted fax receiving window? How would respecting this request from other clinics impact your processes?
This gets complicated for clinics. There are requirements for technology to support this functionality as well as training on both sides to ensure staff are able to comply with this guideline.
When a clinic shuts down or changes numbers, those numbers will be given to other businesses without notifying all of the people with that number programed into their fax machines that the recipient has changed.
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