When it comes to dealing with medical records, confidentiality is key. That’s why the Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Ability Act (HIPAA) was introduced in 1996. While HIPAA regulations don’t reference online or offline faxing directly, any form of communication involving a person’s medical records is covered by them. Although faxing is technically safe, there have been times in the past when careless faxing resulted in a patient’s confidential records being exposed. One instance led to a hospital paying a six-figure fine for accidentally sending a patient’s HIV diagnosis to their employer. To avoid these major mistakes, HIPAA regulations need to be strictly followed.
Landline vs Online Faxing
With the rise of the internet, the need for fax machines has diminished. Now, fax machines are almost obsolete from everyday life, although some businesses still cling on to them. There’s a lot to say about the merits of online faxing and fax machines, but importantly HIPAA regulations don’t differentiate between the two. Indeed, at the time the regulations were introduced online faxing was a new concept, but regardless they need to be followed.
So, what does HIPAA mean for faxing? Essentially, HIPAA covers who may send a patient’s records, test results, health care instructions, and treatments and to whom they can be sent. That makes it important information for doctors, nurses, and specialists, or anyone working at a laboratory, hospital, nursing home, testing center, etc. However, many other parts of the process are regulated to maintain a patient’s privacy, with specific points about the faxing process itself.
Fax To the Right Place
Perhaps the most important process of sending a medical record is that it goes to the intended destination. Although this may seem like a basic thing, it’s a surprisingly common mistake. When using physical fax machines, this means checking and double-checking you’re sending personal data to the correct number. The same is true for online fax services, although many come with a handy contact book to make sure you always get it right.
Confidential Cover Sheets
One key aspect of HIPAA regulations is the need to include a cover page for your fax. Although HIPAA won’t tell you exactly what needs to be included in a cover sheet, the most important details to include are the recipient’s name and fax number, sender’s name and number, the date and time, and a HIPAA and confidentiality disclaimer. It’s vital that you don’t put any information on the cover sheet that could identify the patient. Don’t fret about it though, there’s an art to making a confidential HIPAA-compliant fax cover sheet.
HIPAA requires that data is kept safe at all points: in transit and at rest. For offline solutions, this means using a secure phone line, storing printed faxes safely, and contacting the recipient before sending a fax to make sure they’re ready to receive the fax.
For online faxing, keeping data safe means using strong security. Imagine the chaos if there was a data breach or hack and all those medical records were exposed. A good online faxing service will use SSL protocols for data transfer and use advanced encryption like AES-128. As we mentioned, you need to store faxes securely offline – that’s equally true for online faxes too. You want to know your data remains encrypted and that your account can be accessed securely – ideally with two-factor authentication.
When it comes to medical records, it is important to know where they’ve been sent to and where they’re stored. That way, any issues are traced to the source. While offline that requires a lot of paperwork, for online faxing it’s easy as logs are kept automatically, including IP addresses.
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