Healthcare practices and providers rely heavily on faxing as an important medium for communication due to its reliability and convenience. Fax is a form of communication that enables the protection of patient privacy and complies with HIPAA, though several conditions must be met to ensure compliant faxing to avoid serious consequences.
What is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, is a federal law that requires the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information (PHI) from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
The primary purpose of HIPAA is to improve efficiencies in the healthcare industry, improve portability of health insurance, and protect the privacy of patients and health plan members while ensuring their health information is kept secure.
Examples of PHI include:
- Medical records, including health history or current diagnoses, medications, and similar patient health information.
- Billing information.
- Appointment information.
- Test or scan results.
- Contact information.
- Social Security numbers.
HIPAA Requirements for Faxes
If a practice is covered by HIPAA, its policies and procedures should include reasonable administrative, technical, and physical safeguards for protecting information that would be sent and received by any kind of fax.
- If a fax contains PHI, the sender must use a confidentiality disclaimer with an approved statement warning against unauthorized access.
- Cover pages should obscure PHI underneath. Faxes also should include the date and time, name of recipient, destination fax number, sender’s name, organization, and phone number.
- Destination numbers must be verified, and recipients notified prior to sending the fax.
Generally, fax machines must also be stored in secure area, and received faxes must be immediately secured.
Why HIPAA-Compliant Faxing Is Important
Faxing is a fast, easy, and secure way for providers and hospitals to communicate with one another. However, privacy is a significant concern.
HIPAA violations include disclosing PHI without permission, failing to dispose of PHI when it’s not needed, not having safeguards in place to ensure PHI is protected, or not monitoring access to PHI. Common consequences include:
- Tier 1: Reserved for instances when the organization was unaware of a violation that couldn’t have been avoided; fine from $100 to $50,000 per instance.
- Tier 2: Organization should have been aware of a violation, but it could not be avoided even with precautions; fine from $1,000 to $50,000 per violation.
- Tier 3: “Willful neglect” from the organization, but there was an attempt to correct a violation; $10,000 to $50,000 per violation.
- Tier 4: “Willful neglect” from the organization and there was no attempt to correct a violation; fine starts at $50,000 per violation.
Even if just a few patients’ PHI is compromised, this can add up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars quickly. Many times, violators are terminated from their position. It can also lead to lawsuits, all of which are why it’s important to take protecting PHI seriously.
Benefits Of A HIPAA-Compliant Fax Service
The good news is HIPAA-compliant fax services are available to help ensure protection of PHI while also making faxing easier and more secure for providers. Benefits of HIPAA-compliant fax services include:
Cloud faxing, or online faxing, has a variety of benefits including greater flexibility, security, and efficiency. “The cloud” is any software or service provided over the internet, so a cloud fax service replaces a physical fax machine with internet-based options.
A cloud-fax service offers 100% compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. The service creates a log of every fax, including retrieval and deletion information, and criminals cannot hack into the fax to steal data, ensuring protection of sent and received PHI.
High-level data encryption
Providers must have safeguards in place to protect PHI, and faxes deployed with data encryption can make faxes significantly more reliable and secure. Digital faxes are sent and received over encrypted system. This protects them via layers of security that are impossible to penetrate and make the faxes overall more secure.
Even if a fax is hacked or intercepted, the third-party can’t read it without conversion by an authorized user.
Real-time data transfer
HIPAA compliant faxes via the cloud send immediately. The data travels uninterrupted from the fax sender to the recipient, so it’s less susceptible to hacking. Plus, real-time transfer means smoother operations, eliminating the need for a “middleman” fax server to store and forward data along to the recipient.
HIPAA-compliant faxing services send faxes directly to an individual. The user who wants access to the fax must provide the correct credentials. Otherwise, they cannot access the sent fax, protecting the information from unauthorized viewers. Then, a confirmation is sent that the intended recipient gets the fax. This includes their credentials to ensure peace of mind that the PHI and information was received by the appropriate person.