Physician Revises Faxing Procedures to Safeguard PHI After Faxing PHI to Employer by Mistake
A medical office recently settled with OCR after it allegedly disclosed a patient’s HIV status when the office mistakenly faxed medical records to the patient’s place of employment instead of to the patient’s new health care provider. The employee responsible for the disclosure received a written disciplinary warning, and both the employee and the physician apologized to the patient. To resolve this matter, OCR also required the practice to revise the office’s fax cover page to underscore a confidential communication for the intended recipient. The office informed all its employees of the incident and counseled staff on proper faxing procedures.
Two things pop about about this instance. First, this was clearly a privacy violation. The patient’s protected health information, which incidentally revealed his or her HIV status, we sent to the employer. Secondly, it was evident from the facts that this was a mistake. We aren’t told exactly how this mistake was made. Was the fax number written down in the wrong box on the patient’s records? Did the employee who faxed the records put the incorrect number on the fax cover sheet? We may never know. But this does raise the importance of being precise at all stages of the patient encounter to assure that no inadvertent violations occur. Care you should be taken when information about the patient is initially entered into the system. Individuals at all levels who may be responsible for transmitting PHI must be deliberate about their actions. How many people have called or faxed something to the wrong person before? How many people have written down the wrong telephone or fax number before? Everyone?
This OCR settlement just illustrates that sometimes these small errors can have big implications. It does not appear to have been any significant fines or loss of employment in this situation. But we cannot downplay the potential embarrassment or other negative consequences of mistakes like these. It is one thing to text your friend Bob rather than your friend Bobbie, and weirdly from Bob’s perspective say how wonderful last night was and how you can’t wait to see him again. Telling a patient’s employer about their health condition can have consequences that are much harder to laugh off.
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