Some time ago, I had a post about how I was surprised that my new doctor in California had to have my old medical records transferred from Ohio by fax and not by any other more efficient electronic means. In the comments, lochaber suggested that this may be due to HIPAA and they were right.
The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (better known by its acronym HIPAA) governs the use of people’s medical information. In particular it lays down rules for protecting patient privacy and what are the safe and secure ways for health care providers to share patient information with stiff penalties for violating patient confidentiality. The HIPAA list included faxes because at that time that was the most secure way of transmitting information. So even though we now have more secure ways of transmitting data via email and other electronic means, medical providers still use faxes.
The pandemic has made this a much more serious problem than before because keeping track of people who have tested positive for covid-19 has become an urgent matter and using faxes results in delay, duplication, and errors, as discussed in this segment from the radio program On The Media.
More than half a million coronavirus tests are being performed in the United States every day. For each of those tests, there is a person with a name, address, contact information, and perhaps even health history. Ideally this crucial data travels between clinics and labs, to officials and contact tracers, via the internet. Often, though, it’s faxed.
Apparently fax machines are being overwhelmed, spewing out so much paper non-stop that they are falling on the floor. Some offices have had to buy new fax machines to keep up with the load.
Clearly the law needs serious updating.