John VanVeldhuizen, owner of ARP Collision in Houston, is upset because another private medical record was mistakenly faxed to him Jan. 29.
VanVeldhuizen says he has gotten seven faxes over the past three years of people’s private medical information intended for the Houston Health Centre, and when he received the last fax in July 2012, he talked to Northern Health Authorities in Prince George and they assured him it wouldn’t happen again.
“I thought it was taken care of,” said VanVeldhuizen, adding that he was a little upset when another fax came in last Tuesday morning.
“That’s why I decided to make it public,” he said, adding that the same day he sent out an email about it to MLA John Rustad, MP Nathan Cullen and six media outlets, and spent the whole next day dealing with calls from media.
“I was hoping that the people in the right places would finally hear about this and do something about it. It didn’t seem like it was reaching the right ears and it was being kind of covered up and quietly dealt with,” said VanVeldhuizen, adding that his fax number and the clinic fax number are one digit different, but the digit is on opposite sides on the dial pad.
“So it’s not a misdial where they’re accidentally slipping their finger… it’s more a matter of them misreading the number off of the paper,” he said.
VanVeldhuizen says that last July when he talked with Northern Health, he told them that if it happened again, he would go more public with it.
“I want something in place where there’s a blanket policy,” he said, adding that even in his business dealing with car insurance there are very strict rules through ICBC.
Northern Health spokeswoman Eryn Collins says that Northern Health has a similar policy in their system to protect medical information.
“When people’s personal health information is being handled by anyone… there is legislation that covers how that information is to be handled,” she said.
Collins says outgoing information from Northern Health has protective measures in place, but these faxes are incoming information from other businesses, that Northern Health has no control over.
“You are not in control of the processes they have in place at that end… [we have] very little control when it comes to prevention, over what outside agencies are sending to us. We can only follow up on a case by case basis,” she said.
Collins also says that when they followed up with last Tuesday’s mis-sent fax, they discovered that it was not even destined for the Houston Northern Health clinic.
“They are intended for a local physician who doesn’t actually work out of the local health centre,” said Collins.
“It’s not only a matter of somebody having misdialed the health centre’s fax number, it’s a matter of them having been sent to the health centre in error in the first place,” she said.
VanVeldhuizen says the faxes he has received have not come from one location, but from a wide variety of health service providers, including local practitioners, other clinics, pharmacies, and x-ray departments.
“It’s not even Northern Health, but it’s like me – I’m a private practitioner,” said VanVeldhuizen.
“I’m an independent business but I do work for ICBC, which is a government corporation, so what’s the difference if it’s a medical or auto-body practitioner? I have very strict rules on how I communicate with ICBC about claims and information, so why do they not have the same rules in place?” he said, adding that he has to go through password upon password just to submit an estimate to ICBC.
“I’m constantly entering passwords just to submit pictures or information for a person’s vehicle so, they are that strict about that, but with medical information you can just write stuff out on a paper and then send it?” VanVeldhuizen asked.
“That’s my issue with it,” he said.
Asked why Northern Health still uses faxes for sending information, Collins says they do so only when necessary.
“It’s a relatively secure manner of sending information, being that it goes direct from one destination to another,” said Collins.
“Fax machines are still utilized as a secure manner of sending information with proper policies in place, but then there is always human error,” said Collins, adding that they have also followed up to ensure that their fax number is correct and easy to read on all their forms and websites.
“We have no control over what outside agencies are sending to the Houston Health Centre, so really our role here is following up on a case by case basis to make sure that it doesn’t happen again… We have done and continue to do that,” Collins said.
But Vanveldhuizen says something more needs to be done.
“It’s not [Northern Health] per se, it’s their system and how they deal with their clients and practitioners and all that. That system needs to be changed,” VanVeldhuizen said.