After three years, John Van Veldhuizen is fed up with getting private medical records mistakenly faxed to his autobody shop.
“I just want it to stop,” he says.
The fax number for Van Veldhuizen’s office at ARP Collision differs by just one digit from that of the Houston Health Centre.
Van Veldhuizen says he hasn’t received a lot of the medical faxes—maybe two a year for a total of six.
Some, like the fax he got last week, list nothing but a patient name and phone number.
Others are more serious breaches of privacy.
“I’ve had cancer diagnoses, one for a broken arm where someone was getting his cast taken off, all kinds of age-related things,” he said.
At first, Van Veldhuizen tried to take care of the faxes by himself.
If the sender included their phone number on the fax, he called them back. If they didn’t, he shredded it.
Last year, Van Veldhuizen phoned Northern Health twice to complain, most recently in November.
While the faxes came from doctors’ independent clinics, and not from Northern Health workers, Van Veldhuizen did hope the health authority could solve the issue by speaking to workers at those clinics.
“I think I’ve done everything I can possibly do,” he said.
Steve Raper, a spokesperson at Northern Health, says they will notify all the patients whose records were misdirected and work with providers to resolve the issue.
When Northern Heath’s own staff fax medical records, Raper said they are required to use cover sheets so that it’s clear who the sender is.
Raper also said that every time a fax is sent by Northern Health, the sender calls or emails the receiver to make sure it’s gone through okay.
Asked why B.C. clinics continue to use paper faxes rather than electronic medical records (EMRs), Raper said Northern Health and other providers are moving in that direction.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last few years in terms of secure record transfer via electronic means,” he said. “But it takes time.”
One reason that faxes continue to be used is that they’re consistent, Raper explained—different clinics use a variety of EMR software, and not all the programs are compatible.
Anyone who receives a private medical fax is asked to call Northern Health’s toll-free complaints office at 1-877-677-7715.
“If they can contact us, we can at least secure the document and make sure it doesn’t get into public hands,” Raper said.
According to a 2011 by the Ministry of Health, about 41 per cent of B.C. physicians used EMRs in their clinics in 2009 and 2010.
This year, that number was expected to rise to 55 per cent, and the ministry set a target of having 75 per cent of all B.C. doctors using EMRs by 2014.
In 2007, the province signed a $148-million agreement with Sun Microsystems to set up a secure, physician-only network for sending EMRs, as well as a secure online database to share lab test results.